Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Book of Mormon: 2 Nephi 11

Today we’ll be looking at 2 Nephi 11.

Here is where Nephi stops quoting his brother Jacob.  He tells us Jacob has said lots more to his people, but Nephi has only written these most recently quoted items.  As this writing project (the Book of Mormon) isn’t, strictly speaking, really Nephi’s but the Lord’s, it’s fairly easy to guess that Nephi probably received prompting from the Lord to include what we’ve just studied under Jacob’s eloquently poetic turn of phrase.  So, when Nephi says what he’s written “sufficeth me,” what he really means is that he feels strongly that what he’s written of what Jacob has spoken to the people is enough for now. 

Instead, Nephi intends to give us more of the prophecies of Isaiah and this chapter is his introduction into the largest selection of Isaiah quotations in the Book of Mormon.  Here, too, Nephi gives us a few sentences worth of instruction in how to handle the information he’s about to give us. 

First, Nephi tells us he intends to “liken his words unto my people.(v2)”  Here’s the best definition that I’ve found of what that phrase means. “To liken the scriptures means to understand how the principles and doctrines apply to one’s own life and to use them to become more like the Savior (Teaching the Gospel: A Handbook, 33-34).”  Likening the scriptures to ourselves is a very valuable skill to have when you’re studying the scriptures.  It helps the passages take on a more real feeling, like it’s not just a book but a personal message, written just for you.

Second, Nephi informs us that Isaiah “truly saw my Redeemer. (v2)” This tells us that one of the reasons Nephi feels these passages are valuable is because they give information about the coming of the Savior.  I can almost imagine Nephi with a yellow highlighter pen, marking all the prophecies he felt had anything to do with the coming of Christ.  You don’t have to do that.  However, it pays, while you’re studying the upcoming passages to be on the lookout for those verses that describe him.  What kind of person is he supposed to be?  How will we know him?  Nephi adds that he delights in proving the truth of the Savior’s coming to his people.  This is the reason the Law of Moses was put into action in the first place, Nephi adds.

Third, Nephi says, “my soul delighteth in the covenants of the Lord which he hath made to our fathers. (v5)”  These covenants, or 2-way promises, are made to us as well.  So learning about them is as important to us as they were in Nephi’s time.  Also, Nephi points out that the covenants prove the character of the Lord. 

Finally, Nephi tells us he wants to prove the validity of Christ’s mission on earth.  In other words, he wants, as any good prophet and leader does, to lead his people to repent and access the atonement.  Nephi also points out that the existence of Christ, and by extension the atonement, proves the existence of God, which proves that our creation has a distinct purpose.

So, as we begin studying the Isaiah chapters over the next 14 chapters, remember to do the following.

  1. Figure out how the scripture applies to you.
  2. Look for information about the Savior.
  3. Look for information about the covenants of the Lord and find ways how that reveals the kind of person he is.
  4. Look for information about the atonement and how it proves the existence and love of God.

I want to add a final step, as we begin delving into this mine of spiritual information.  Find some place, a journal or notebook or whatever, and write it down.  In my opinion, personal revelation such as what you’re going to get from the next selection of Isaiah chapters is invaluable and should be saved.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Book of Mormon: 2 Nephi 10

As promised, today we’ll look at 2 Nephi 10.

As you might remember, Jacob has just spent the past several chapters talking about a few chapters in Isaiah and what their meanings are.  Then he closed up and told everyone to go home and come back tomorrow.  Today, his assigned topic is “this righteous branch of which I have spoken. (v1)”

In this chapter, Jacob shows why his brother made him a high priest over the church.  He has the gift of prophecy.  First of all, Jacob recalls his audience’s attention to the promises made to them.  These promises pertain to physical things.  He has been shown that many of their descendants will die lacking a belief in Christ.  However, thanks to the mercy of the Lord, they will, later, be restored to their parents, who will be given the opportunity to teach them about their Savior.  For this reason, Jacob points out, Christ must be born among the Jews, the only group of people who would crucify their God.  If Christ did his miracles for any other nation, Jacob tells us, they would repent and realize he was their God.  However, the existence of “priestcrafts and iniquities” among the Jews will result in such pride that they will crucify him.  Priestcrafts, according to the LDS Guide to the Scriptures, means people who preach solely for money or worldly praise.  As for “iniquity,” M-W defines it as “gross injustice: wickedness,” or “a wicked act or thing: sin.”  Because of their wickedness, let’s just say that the Jews are in for a world of hurt.  Still, the Lord promises they will, one day, believe that he is the Christ (Greek for “anointed one” or Messiah).  Then they will be restored to their lands and the Gentile nations will help this to happen.  The Americas, however, will be the inheritance of the children of Lehi.  Eventually, the Gentiles will arrive there and will be blessed.  What’s more, they won’t have any kings.  Anyone who tries to put a king on the Americas will die.  The Lord will be the American Gentiles’ only king.    Likewise, anyone who fights against the children of God, whoever they are.  The Gentiles will become a trial for the descendants of Lehi to bear, but the Lord will soften their hearts.  Eventually, they will become like fathers to the children of Lehi.  Because of this, the Gentiles will be adopted into the house of Israel and the Americas will be set aside as choice for all those who worship the Lord. 


Now, reading all of that, we know that much of what Jacob mentioned this session, if not all of it, has taken place by the time we’re reading this.

  1. Many of the descendants of Lehi died without a belief in Christ, as seen in Mormon.
  2. Christ was born among the Jews who, due to their wickedness and their practice of preaching for the praise of their fellows, failed to believe he was who he said he was and put him to death by crucifixion, as recorded in the New Testament.
  3. Following this, the Jews underwent a series of horrible disasters, one of which involved the First Jewish-Roman War in 66 AD, about 33 years following the death of Christ, wherein the Jews revolted against the Romans, which revolt was quickly put down.  The Seige of Jerusalem in 70 AD resulted in the destruction of much of the temple and the plundering of many of the sacred items contained there, such as the Menorah.
  4. During the Jewish-Roman Wars (66-135 AD), more than 900 villages were destroyed along with much of the Jewish population, many of whom were either killed, sold into slavery or forced to flee.
  5. On 29 November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly recommended the adoption and implementation of the partition plan of Mandatory Palestine.  Shortly thereafter, in May of 1948, Medinat Yisrael or the State of Israel was officially created.
  6. Meanwhile, Europeans arrived in the Americas and proceeded to give the natives there a very hard time, as their ideas of land ownership by then were considerably different.
  7. No nation established on the American continents has yet been able to establish a king, not even Canada, which is technically is governed by Queen Elizabeth II, but she lives in England.

In any case, Jacob tells his people not to let any of this get them down, reminding them that they have the freedom to choose good or evil for themselves.  He suggests that they put themselves into harmony (reconcile) with the will of God rather than that of the devil or the flesh.  He reminds them that, after they do this, it is only by the grace of God that they are saved.  With this, Jacob closes with a sincere hope that, when they are resurrected, it will be to eternal life, where they will be allowed to praise God forevermore.  This, too, is my fervent hope and I leave it with you in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Book of Mormon: 2 Nephi 9

My apologies for letting this go so long without putting up a new entry.  I guess I’m normal in some ways, in that I’m not always consistent about my scripture study.  Still, I’m here now and we need to pick up where we left off, namely, 2 Nephi 9.
We continue with Jacob’s conference talk.  I’m judging here that, since they didn’t have quite as many General Authorities, their conference talks were probably a lot longer.  Still, it’s nice that it’s broken up into more or less bite-sized pieces like this one is.  As before, this chapter is pretty long, so I’m going to try and sum up for you rather than try to explain each verse.  Even so, this entry is likely to be pretty long so, be prepared.
Now, Jacob has just finished reading several chapters of the book of Isaiah, namely Isaiah 49: 22-26; Isaiah 50; Isaiah 51, and Isaiah 52:1-2.  He claims the reason for this to be so that they will know about the covenants the Lord has made with the House of Israel and that he has talked with his prophets from the beginning, from generation to generation until the time comes that they are all “restored to the true church and fold of god; when they shall be gathered home to the lands of their inheritance, and shall be established in all their lands of promise. (v2)”  This last indicates to me that there is more than one land of promise.  You’ll remember that Israel initially thought that Canaan was “the land of promise,” meaning it was promised to them in a covenant.  However, frequently in the Book of Mormon, someone will say they have obtained “a land of promise,” with the same connotation.  Now, Jacob makes mention of “all their lands of promise.”  That is so cool to me to know that the Lord has more than one land of promise.  Maybe the whole earth is a land of promise.
Next, Jacob mentions that he knows many of them have searched “to know of things to come. (v4).”  This means they are studying their scriptures or, more specifically, the records of the prophets in the Old Testament, which would be much like us meticulously studying Revelations (which we’ll get to eventually).  It is in this context that Jacob speaks of “God” showing himself to the people in Jerusalem.  This is a reference to the Savior of the World.  Jacob says it is expedient that he should be among them.  I always believed the word “expedient” meant necessary.  Merriam-Webster tells us it means “suitable for achieving a particular end in a given circumstance.”  So, he didn’t have to live among the Jews.  He could actually have lived anywhere.  However, the Jews were the best place for him to come to achieve his end, so he chose to come there.
Jacob also notes “it behooveth the great Creator that he suffereth himself to become subject unto man in the flesh, and die for all men, that all men might become subject unto him. (v5)”  Again, I had a mistaken understanding about this statement, so I feel the need to explain it.  First of all, according to M-W, where the word “expedient” doesn’t mean necessary, the word “behoovedoes.  In this same passage, Jacob uses the word subject.  Now, being a big D&D fan, I understood the word “subject” to mean someone who is under the authority of someone else.  M-W agrees with this definition.  However, it’s the word “might” that makes this statement work.  So let’s translate.  It was necessary for the Lord to come under the authority of man and die for us, so that we all have the option to be under His authority.  If we’re under His authority, that means we take His name on us, serve him, always remember him and avail ourselves of the free gift of repentance.  In a sense, He becomes our lord and we willingly become His vassals or loyal subjects.  Honestly, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather be subject to.  Can you?
Moving right along, Jacob next speaks of resurrection.  Without it, our bodies would remain in their graves to rot forever and our spirits would become subject to the devil and his followers.  This would be the inevitable consequences of being fallible mortal beings.  Without the atonement to restore our bodies and our spirits, our situations would be hopeless and the plan would fail.
It’s worthwhile here to examine Jacob’s definition of the word “death.”  There are two kinds of death, according to Jacob: temporal or physical death and spiritual death.  In this case, death means separation.  In physical death, our spirits are separated from our bodies.  In spiritual death, our spirits are separated from their God.  Thanks to the atonement, physical death is no longer a worry, because we are assured that “all men [will] become incorruptible and immortal, (v13)” 
Jacob then tells us that we’ll have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt, uncleanness and nakedness.  To me, that calls to mind the first time I had to undress in a public locker room and how uncomfortable I felt walking around with no clothes on.  Our guilt and shame will be that obvious to us and, likely, to others who see us.  However, Jacob goes on, saying that the righteous will have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment and righteousness, “being clothed with purity.”  In other words, we won’t feel uncomfortable because we’ll remember our righteousness and it will also be obvious to us and others. 
In any case, Jacob warns us that the righteous will go on being righteous and the filthy will go on being filthy.  Here he compares the torment of the filthy to a burning lake of fire and brimstone.  Brimstone is an ancient reference to sulfur, which has a distinctive smell that might remind you of rotten eggs and tends to last for a long time.  So, think of a lake of lava, constantly burning, that stinks of sulfur.  Can you imagine the memory of your sins being so vivid that they are like a constant burning sensation and an ever present stink?  That’s what I think is meant by this simile provided by Jacob. 
Here, too, in verses 25 and 26, Jacob reminds us that the Lord has given a law and, with that law, comes punishment if we break it.  However, we know that, if we don’t have the law, we can’t be punished for not following it, therefore, there’s no condemnation on our heads.  All of this is thanks, again, to the atonement, which takes the law, that says ignorance is no excuse, and adds an element of mercy.  Suddenly, ignorance of the law is a definite excuse.
However, if you do have the law, according to Jacob, you have a responsibility to try to live it and to repent as often as necessary.  Jacob warns us in verse 28 of the “foolishness of men.”  There are two examples he provides: the Learned or scholars and the Rich or wealthy. 
Let’s look at the Learned first.  Jacob qualifies this, saying that being learned is good if you’re paying attention to the counsel of God.  However, if you take your knowledge to mean you’re wise, and forget to pay attention to God’s counsel, you’re really foolish and your knowledge doesn’t really get you anywhere.  The key to this is the word “wise,” which, as an adjective, Merriam-Webster’s defines as “marked by deep understanding, keen discernment, and a capacity for sound judgment.”  So, be very careful not to let the fact that you know lots of stuff lead you to believe that you understand everything, or have keen discernment and sound judgment unless you’re also paying attention to God’s counsel. 
Now, let’s look at the Rich.  In Jacob’s estimation, the problem with wealth is that it leads the owner to despise those with less than they have and persecute people who are submissive, mild tempered and moderate (meek).  There’s also the tendency to get so attached to your wealth that it becomes the be-all and end-all of your existence, like an idol or an addiction.  It’s hard, when you’re wealthy, to remember that real treasure doesn’t really have anything to do with money.
Next Jacob talks about the deaf who will not hear and the blind who will not see, so let’s look at them next.  We know that the physically deaf are unable to hear because, although sound waves enter their ears, sometimes there is an interrupt between the ears and the brain that prevents those signals from entering.  Likewise, the physically blind are unable to see because light enters their eyes and the signals that are the interpretation of that light is prevented from reaching the brain.  However, though the brain is the place where those physical signals are interpreted and put to use, the spiritual sight and sound signals are interpreted by our hearts.  However, if our hearts are hardened by pride of any form, those signals will fail to reach our hearts.  However, unlike with physical blindness and deafness, we don’t become spiritually deaf and blind by accident or by birth.  We can only be spiritually deafened and blinded by choice, namely the choice to harden our hearts and refuse to hear the call of the master or receive light and truth to our minds.  Allowing this, Jacob tells us, will cut us off from our Father in Heaven, resulting in Spiritual Death.
Another interestingly poetic comparison Jacob makes is in reference to the uncircumcised of heart.  We learn in the Old Testament that Abraham and his descendants were commanded that all males must be circumcised as a sign of their covenant with God.  The symbolism of this is fairly obvious.  It’s hard to forget something if the symbol of it stares at you every time you go to change your underwear, not to mention that circumcision is a fairly painful procedure without anesthesia.  So there, too, the covenant it represents would be hard to forget.  Nowadays, though, physical circumcision isn’t a requirement any more.  So, by what sign do we remember our covenants with the Lord?  By the sign of our broken, or humble, heart and our faith. 
After this, Jacob lists a number of other sins and consequences, but he sums everything up by simply adding that all those who die in their sins will return, face God and remain in their sins.    He points out that being carnally minded is death, while being spiritually minded is eternal life.  Here, again, we have another example of the eloquence of Jacob.  What does it mean to be carnally minded.  For this one, I think we need a little etymology.  Here is what the Online Etymology Dictionary tells us about the word “carnal”
c.1400, "physical, human, mortal," from Old French carnal and directly from Medieval Latin carnalis "natural, of the same blood," from Latin carnis "of the flesh," genitive of caro "flesh, meat" (see carnage). Meaning "sensual" is from early 15c.; that of "worldly, sinful" is from mid-15c. Carnal knowledge is attested from early 15c. and was in legal use by 1680s.
In short, the word “carnal” is a reference to the flesh.  Therefore, being carnally minded means having your thoughts centered around the needs of the flesh.  Likewise, being spiritually minded means having your thoughts centered around the needs of the spirit.
Jacob reminds us not to say he’s “spoken hard things to us.”  If we do, we’re likely to despise and use harsh language against the truth.  Since Jacob has only repeated the words of the Lord, he is well aware that the wicked will find the truth to be hard.  The righteous, however, don’t find the truth hard at all.  They love it.  It doesn’t bother them, but frees them.  Jacob tells us that the road of righteousness is narrow, but very straight no curves or bends.  The gatekeeper, of course, is Christ, himself.  People willing to lower themselves to the humbling task of asking to pass the gate will be given admittance.  Those too proud to do so, for whatever reason, won’t.
The remainder of the chapter is basically Jacob pleading with his audience to repent. With this, he closes his talk.  However, just like me, Jacob promises them more tomorrow.  Until then.