Thursday, April 17, 2014 0 comments

Rahab Hides the Israelite Spies: Joshua 2

The story in Joshua 2 of Rahab the harlot hiding the Israelite spies stuck out to me recently when I was reading it and I found a lot of interesting things in it.

1 And Joshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two men to spy secretly, saying, Go view the land, even Jericho. And they went, and came into an harlot’s house, named Rahab, and lodged there.

Keep in mind that in Numbers 13-14, Moses first sent the 12 spies to look at the land and 10 brought back an evil report and 2 (one of whom was Joshua) were excited to go in.  The people were intimidated and refused to go into the land to possess it, so the Lord declared they would not live to inherit the land.

It is now 40 years later and here Joshua sends in two spies to view the land, but he sends them secretly, concealing their mission from the rest of Israel.  It is possible that he didn’t want the people to know, lest they be scared again if they heard of scary conditions. 

It is really interesting to me that Joshua decided to send the two spies in the first place.  His reason for sending them out is “Go view the land, even Jericho.”  What did he want them to see?  What did he want them to find out?  We can’t really tell.  Again, this sending of spies is odd because Joshua himself had been sent as a spy throughout the land 40 years before.  He knew the land was good.  He had seen it.  So why send spies again?   Some have called this doubt or over-caution, but I suspect that he acted according to spiritual impressions that someone needed to be sent into the land.  I think it shows how Joshua didn’t lean on his own understanding, but trusted in the Lord.  He did not know why or what would come of it, so this could be why his directions to the spies were so vague.  “Go view the land, even Jericho” would hopefully circulate them around enough that whatever they needed to be there for would become more obvious as time went on.   And we see what came of it.  Somehow the spies found one person who believed, and that led to her and her family being saved out of all the people of Jericho.   

Now, why did these two men go to a harlot’s house and stay there?  Israel was supposed to stay pure, right?  Perhaps staying with a harlot was a strategic measure designed to conceal their real motive for being there--viewing the land.  If they stayed with someone else, people might ask all kinds of questions, but if they stayed with a harlot, everybody would just assume the usual reason for strange men visiting a harlot.  And remember just because they visit her doesn’t mean anything has to happen.  

 2 And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, Behold, there came men in hither to night of the children of Israel to search out the country.

If the two Israelite men had hoped to escape notice, it seems that they failed.  Someone saw them come in, identified them, and passed that info up the chain of command to the king of Jericho.  It is interesting to me that the purpose for the Israelites being there was known as well.  The front of visiting a harlot didn’t fool whoever was watching, or.. there may have been a spy in the Israelite camp for the king of Jericho. 

If you look at it another way, Rahab’s house was located on top of Jericho’s wall (v15) and it is possible that there were soldiers stationed on the wall as well who happened to notice the Israelites coming in.

How is the king of Jericho going to react to the news of Israelites in his city?  Probably not well.   

3 And the king of Jericho sent unto Rahab, saying, Bring forth the men that are come to thee, which are entered into thine house: for they be come to search out all the country.
4 And the woman took the two men, and hid them, and said thus, There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were:
5 And it came to pass about the time of shutting of the gate, when it was dark, that the men went out: whither the men went I wot not: pursue after them quickly; for ye shall overtake them.
6 But she had brought them up to the roof of the house, and hid them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order upon the roof.
7 And the men pursued after them the way to Jordan unto the fords: and as soon as they which pursued after them were gone out, they shut the gate.

At this point we will have noticed that Rahab has unexpectedly taken the side of the Israelites (whom she’s never met) instead of that of her own people (whom she’s lived among all along).  We should be asking ourselves why she is doing this.  What motive would she have?  We’ll find out.

A lot of commentators come down on Rahab for lying to king’s messengers, but if you check everything she says, she tells the truth, but with such broad strokes that the specific information about the spies’ location is concealed.
“There came men unto me” – Very true.
“but I wist not whence they were” – This is also true; she wouldn’t have known where they came from before they told her.
“about the time of shutting of the gate, when it was dark,…the men went out” – Yes, the men went out--they were outside on the roof.  And because the Jericho men run outside Jericho to search and shut the gate, the statement that they went out about the time of the shutting of the gate becomes true too.
“whither the men went I wot [know] not” – If she told them to go up to the roof and hide, then she might generally know where to look, but she wouldn’t know exactly where they went, so this is true too, broadly speaking.

Okay, so this gets rid of the hostile men of Jericho, but it causes another problem—the gate is shut and the spies can’t get out through the gate now.

There is something else that I want to bring up that might give us an additional clue about Rahab.  Notice it says she hid the men with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order upon the roof.  She has all this flax.  It isn’t a roofing material; it’s a food-and-fiber agricultural product.  (Flax fiber is used to make linen, and flax seed is a very good grain to eat.)  And there is enough flax on the roof that two men can hide among it.  And it’s all organized, laid in order. Where did she get all this flax?  It is possible she had a little side business going on of growing flax and she had just harvested a crop.  

The other possibility is that the flax could have been the brought to her by her customers to pay for her…um.. services.  But then she’d still have to do something with that flax—either process it herself or sell it.  And that’s still a side business.

The fact that the flax is laid in order on her roof and there is so much of it is what makes me think this was a side business of hers.  Laying it out in order could be part of drying it or exposing it to the elements (which is called “retting” and it breaks down the outside of the plant so the fibers can be more easily processed).  This means she knew what she was doing with it, which further suggests it was a side business. Usually retting is done in the fields, and the fact that she is doing it on the roof of her house makes me think that it was her way of securing her crop.  The whole city was shut up because of the Israelites, expecting to be put under siege, so she would definitely want that flax with her.

Yep, that flax really makes me wonder..  was she a harlot growing flax on the side, or was she a flax farmer who had turned to prostitution just to stay alive?

8 ¶And before they were laid down, she came up unto them upon the roof;
9 And she said unto the men, I know that the Lord hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you.
10 For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed.
11 And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the Lord your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath.
12 Now therefore, I pray you, swear unto me by the Lord, since I have shewed you kindness, that ye will also shew kindness unto my father’s house, and give me a true token:
13 And that ye will save alive my father, and my mother, and my brethren, and my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death.

It must have really floored those Israelite men to hear a harlot bearing testimony to them that she knew their God was the God of heaven and earth.  And just think, out of all the people they could have stayed with, they found this one woman who believed.  (It really makes you wonder how they decided upon her.  Was her place most convenient?  Did she find them?  How did they connect?  We may never know.)

As a prostitute, Rahab heard from her customers about Israel and their victories.  She saw how frightened the people around her were.  Rahab hadn’t actually seen any of the miraculous events happen that they told about, but she believed them.  (This showed faith in things not seen which were true.)  In spite of her harlotry she recognized that Israel’s God was the God of the whole earth and that God had given Israel the land.  She realized that her people’s time was coming to an end and that they would eventually be destroyed.  She could have fought this conclusion--it seems that just about everybody else around her were in denial about it--but she seems to have decided to honest with herself.  And too, consider that Rahab had this house on the top of the city wall, in what seemed to be a very safe place.  She could have put trust in the strength of the city wall, yet instead she took it for granted that the Israelites were going to win because God would help them.

(It is so odd too that Jericho’s inhabitants were so afraid of Israel and they told these stories about Israel’s God and yet they didn’t believe enough to join Israel or surrender to them.) 

So here’s where we see Rahab’s motive for taking the side of the spies against her own people.  She believed in the power of the God of Israel, so it was right to protect those who were His people and there was the possibility of finding favor with God thereby.  Her belief was strong enough that she essentially was willing to put her life on the line to conceal them.

It is touching that she asks for her family to be saved as well, even though she lives separate from them.  And notice that she asks for an oath (a covenant) to make it sure.

Now, this is where we might wonder how Rahab would live after being saved.  If she lives among the Israelites afterward, they aren’t going to let her continue her prostitution.  That side business with flax is going to become really important to her.  

Did she know about Israel’s standards of morality when she asked for that covenant that she and her family be saved?  We don’t know for sure.   I’m going to speculate some here.  Among the other things that we know she heard about Israel, she may have heard about Israel’s strict commandments as well.  Keep in mind, the Canaanites practiced a form of idolatry that sacralized prostitution, so to them, hearing of the Israelites’ penalties of death for immorality would be incredibly shocking and disturbing.  But maybe Rahab was open to those commandments and wanted to live them. 

If she did know about those commandments, her flax side business might represent some major faith to find some other way of making a living so that she would eventually be able to live with the Israelites.  If she didn’t know about those commandments, then her flax side business was a very very lucky thing to have.

14 And the men answered her, Our life for yours, if ye utter not this our business. And it shall be, when the Lord hath given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with thee.
15 Then she let them down by a cord through the window: for her house was upon the town wall, and she dwelt upon the wall.
16 And she said unto them, Get you to the mountain, lest the pursuers meet you; and hide yourselves there three days, until the pursuers be returned: and afterward may ye go your way.

The spies have pretty strong faith too, as you can see by their assured reply, “when the Lord hath given us the land” (emphasis added). 

How lucky that Rahab lived on the top of the city wall so that she could help the spies get outside the gates by going out the window and down the wall with a cord.  If she had lived anywhere else, this might have been a different story.

Having obtained the promise from the spies, she is now highly invested in their safety.  If they don’t get back to Joshua safe so they can inform him of the token of the scarlet cord, she still dies. 

17 And the men said unto her, We will be blameless of this thine oath which thou hast made us swear.
18 Behold, when we come into the land, thou shalt bind this line of scarlet thread in the window which thou didst let us down by: and thou shalt bring thy father, and thy mother, and thy brethren, and all thy father’s household, home unto thee.
19 And it shall be, that whosoever shall go out of the doors of thy house into the street, his blood shall be upon his head, and we will be guiltless: and whosoever shall be with thee in the house, his blood shall be on our head, if any hand be upon him.
20 And if thou utter this our business, then we will be quit of thine oath which thou hast made us to swear.
 21 And she said, According unto your words, so be it. And she sent them away, and they departed: and she bound the scarlet line in the window.

The sign of binding the scarlet cord in the window makes this story Rahab’s version of the Passover.  (And it just so happens that the Israelites celebrated Passover themselves in between the time the spies return to Joshua and when the Israelites conquer Jericho, so there is more than a symbolic connection here.)   I notice that Rahab put the scarlet cord in the window immediately.  She didn’t wait until she saw the Israelites surrounding the walls to do it.  I like how she didn’t procrastinate.

Also notice that she had to persuade her parents and her siblings to stay in her house with her to be safe.  She seems to have succeeded convincing at least part of her family, since Joshua 6:23 says that her father, mother, and brethren were saved.  Compare Rahab’s story with that of Noah, who built an ark and saved only his immediate family.  Also, compare her story to the story of Lot, who was only able to save himself and his two daughters, even though he warned his sons-in-law, and his wife turned back.

Think about how much faith Rahab’s family had to have to listen to her warning and instructions.  They sacrificed everything they had and were for the chance of being saved, and they had to come live for a time in the house of a harlot and live under that association in order to be saved.  And they had to be very patient because it took time for the Israelites to conquer Jericho.  (It took far less time than a siege would have, but it still took time.) They had to wait about 19 days in her house for the Israelites to conquer Jericho.   I tallied what the Israelites did during that approximate 19 days:
·      3 days for spies to hide from pursuers (Joshua 2:22)
·      3 days to for Israel’s officers to muster the host (Joshua 3:2)
·      1 day for the spies to return
·      1 day for the Israelites to sanctify themselves (Joshua 3:5)
·      4 days for the Israelites to heal up after newly circumcising themselves and to keep the Passover  (Joshua 4:19-10)
·      6 days for the Israelites to circle Jericho
·      1 day for the Israelites to circle Jericho, blow their horns, and have the walls come down
That last 7 days may have been very difficult for Rahab and her family, to watch Israel marching around the city without attacking.  It would be a style of battle preparation that they had never seen before.  It would be hard for them to take seriously.

Through all of this, Rahab and her family had to have great faith not just in the trustworthiness of the spies, but also that Joshua and the Israelites would honor the agreement as well.

Since she and her family stayed in her house, which was on top of the Jericho’s wall, we know their part of the wall had to stay up when the walls came tumbling down, otherwise they would have been injured in the wall of it.

22 And they [the spies] went, and came unto the mountain, and abode there three days, until the pursuers were returned: and the pursuers sought them throughout all the way, but found them not.
23 ¶So the two men returned, and descended from the mountain, and passed over, and came to Joshua the son of Nun, and told him all things that befell them:
24 And they said unto Joshua, Truly the Lord hath delivered into our hands all the land; for even all the inhabitants of the country do faint because of us.

In terms of a reconnaissance mission, the spies’ visit to Jericho might be said to be unsuccessful, since the two men hid most of the time.  They might have been worried after their 3 days hiding from pursuit.  They could have been concerned about how the Israelites would take Jericho with its city walls, but fascinatingly they tell Joshua, “Truly the Lord hath delivered into our hands all the land, for even all the inhabitants of the country do faint because of us.”  They certainly get points for enthusiasm.

It seems to me that the spies’ mission was intended by the Lord to find Rahab and to save her and her family more than achieve any real military objective.  That can tell us something about the Lord’s care for the one and how He can save people who we would not think would be receptive to the message of the gospel.

So how is Rahab remembered?  Interestingly enough, when Rahab’s name is mentioned in the Old Testament, it is usually with distaste.

4 I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to them that know me: behold Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia; this man was born there.
 5 And of Zion it shall be said, This and that man was born in her: and the highest himself shall establish her. (Psalms 87:4-5)

Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces, as one that is slain; thou hast scattered thine enemies with thy strong arm. (Psalm 89:10)

Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon? (Isaiah 51:9)

Because Rahab had that association with harlotry, I think the prophets used her name as a symbol or stand-in to refer to those who were unfaithful to the Lord.  Rahab was not actually “broken in pieces” or “cut,” but the wicked cultures from which she came definitely were.  It’s kind of sad that they used her name like that.

On the other hand, Rahab is cited the New Testament as a woman of faith!

By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace. (Hebrews 11:31)

Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? (James 2:25)

Consider these manifestations of her faith:

--She had confidence in an unconfirmed reality of the power of the God of Israel.  Her belief was based merely on reports, which may even have been exaggerated on the negative side, and yet she believed.  (That’s like someone joining the church even when the only thing they have read is ‘anti’ literature.)
--She extrapolated from these points of faith that her and her people’s days were numbered.  This was a very unpleasant notion to think about, yet she did not shy away from it.  This was faith that events not yet seen would happen.  And yet she did not despair.  She had the faith to take whatever chance she could find of avoiding destruction.
--She was loyal to an unverified relationship.  Even though Israel’s God would not be pleased with her profession as a harlot (and she may or may not have known this), she believed and saved the spies (representatives of that God) in order to create an obligation that might allow her to seek safety God’s people.
--She had faith in an unsubstantiated promise.  She had no way of knowing whether the spies would keep their promise to save her and her family, but she did her part to extract that promise and to qualify for salvation under its conditions.

Can you think of ways that our faith may be similar to hers?

 When I read this story, I can see lessons from the different perpectives of the characters.   
  • When we look at it from Joshua’s perspective, it is about following spiritual promptings and seeing how it leads to the salvation of a family. 
  • When we look at it from the perspective of the two spies, this story is about doing what you can to fulfill a mission from a prophet and then seeing how the Lord provides help from unexpected directions. 
  • When we look at it from the perspective of Rahab, this story shows us that God reaches out to save individuals who choose to have faith in Him, even when those individuals are some of the lowest of the low, even when their destruction is a mere 19 days away.  God’s arm is stretched out all our lives long and it is never too late to be saved.  (And of course, the sooner we lay hold on His salvation, the better!)

Friday, April 11, 2014 0 comments

Wisdom in the Sight of the Nations

 This is part of some talks Moses gave to the Israelites before he was to be translated.  I ran across these verses and liked them:

5 Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the Lord my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it.
 6 Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.
 7 For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for?
 8 And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?
 9 Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons;
(Deuteronomy 4:5-9)

I really love that it says keeping the commandments is our wisdom and understanding in the sight of the nations.  It tells us it is possible for other people to understand the wisdom in the commandments, how following them really does make life better.  (The caveat is that those nations have to be honest in heart..)

Interestingly enough, this also implies missionary work.  Other nations will not be impressed with the wisdom of the commandments unless they have them explained to them, and they won’t have them explained unless we talk about the commandments.  And the best time to talk about them is when we are about to do them.  By expressing our joyful anticipation of fulfilling commandments, we may elicit questions from others, which we can answer with explanations, doctrine, testimony, and invitation to experiment upon the word.

When the commandments are explained, the honest in heart can see that they are head and shoulders above the laws of men.  (Just as a single example, Welfare Square in Salt Lake City routinely impresses visiting dignitaries who have the church’s welfare program explained to them.  Explaining that program touches on principles and commandments of tithing, fast offerings, work, and self-reliance, etc.)

I also like this bit—“For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for?”   Consider all the ways that we can have God so close to us.  1) Receiving answers to prayers 2) Coming into the presence of God in the temple, which is the house of the Lord 3) Having the gift of the Holy Ghost whereby we can have a member of the Godhead with us always. 

We are soooo blessed!
Wednesday, April 9, 2014 3 comments

Mention of the Highest Celestial Degree in Deuteronomy (and other places)

Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the Lord’s thy God,
the earth also, with all that therein is.
(Deuteronomy 10:14)

I ran across this verse today in my scripture reading.  I saw that phrase “heaven of heavens” and I realized it was essentially a mention of the highest degree of the celestial kingdom.  In Deuteronomy!

Compare it with a term we are more familiar with—“holy of holies”—which refers to the most holy place in the temple.  It is the most holy of all the holy places.  So the heaven of heavens is the most heavenly place of all the heavens—the celestial kingdom at its highest degree.

Clearly we don’t give Moses enough credit. Yes, the Israelites may have rejected the higher law, but Moses didn’t, and with the Melchizedek priesthood, which holds the keys of the mysteries, he was not prevented from gaining greater knowledge of the eternities.

Is this the only place “heaven of heavens” occurs in the scriptures?  No.  It is mentioned in four other places in the Old Testament.

But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded? (1 Kings 8:27)

This is Solomon speaking during the dedication of the temple that he built. 

But who is able to build him an house, seeing the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain him? who am I then, that I should build him an house, save only to burn sacrifice before him? (2 Chronicles 2:6)

This is Chronicles’ version of many of the events that occurred in Kings, but we get something extra here where Solomon speaks as he is deciding to build the temple.  It sounds like Solomon felt very overwhelmed by the task of making something fine enough to be a worthy house of God.

But will God in very deed dwell with men on the earth? behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house which I have built! (2 Chronicles 6:18)

This is part of Chronicles’ version of the dedicatory prayer for Solomon’s temple.
(I have to point out that this idea that heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain God is a hyperbole and not literal.  We know this because of Joseph Smith’s first vision in which he saw Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ were two separate and distinct corporeal beings.  Also, the idea that heaven can’t contain God is logically paradoxical.  If we consider heaven as the environment around God and then compare it to a bag around a cat, it would be like saying no bag is big enough to hold the cat.  But then the bag has to expand.  But the cat is too big.  So the bag must expand.  Leave it to Solomon the wise to come up with religious paradoxes, huh?  Again the whole purpose of this hyperbole was to express his sense of overwhelm about building a temple fit for God.)

Sorry for the digression there..

The last mention of heaven of heavens is in Nehemiah.

Thou, even thou, art Lord alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth thee. (Nehemiah 9:6)

The time period is after the Jews have returned to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.  This is part of a prayer given by Levites when the Jews gathered to fast and confess their sins. 

After this, I thought I’d look to see if there was anywhere that used the term “highest heaven,” and it is only used in the section heading of D&C 131, where celestial marriage is revealed as essential to obtaining the highest degree of the celestial kingdom.    In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul tells of being caught up into the “third heaven” to see and hear unspeakable things.

It is nice to know these things are touched on in the Bible, albeit very lightly. 
Monday, April 7, 2014 7 comments

Thoughts on April 2014 General Conference

I want to share some thoughts I had on talks that stuck out to me from General Conference.

I loved that the Gilbert temple cultural celebration was mentioned twice.  It really was a noteworthy event.  It was a very special experience to watch the broadcast of it.  I live in the area, so I was involved in a small way in preparations for it.  In my ward, I helped cut out pattern pieces to make costumes for the youth.  I also helped sew the costumes in a big Relief Society sew-a-thon.   I also got to help teach my ward’s youth sign language for one of the songs, and I practiced it with them.   I also had great sympathy for the youth as they were performing in the rain because that day I had been weeding outside in the rain and I got very wet.  Rain in Arizona is cold.   When I watched the cultural celebration, I loved that they performed with joy.  I also had a deep sense of satisfaction, knowing that the little that I did to help them had paid off.  (I was startled by how satisfied I felt; I didn’t expect to feel that way.)   It might seem like a big deal was being made out of the event, but I think that it illustrates the principle that the bigger the obstacles people overcome to do what is right, the greater the honor.

Elder Neil A. Andersen told a story about the woman in the mobile home who went through a tornado and her mobile home ended up on top of her neighbor’s without her even knowing.  His point that spiritual whirlwinds may uproot our spiritual foundations without us even being aware that we have moved was very powerful.  It made me realize that I was forming some new habits in my life that were starting to uproot my spiritual foundation and I’ll need to cut them out. 

Elder Eyring made some very perceptive statements.  He said God makes it attractive to choose the right by helping us feel the effects of our choices.  Evil brings sorrow and regret eventually.  He said effects of our choices are delayed in order to build our faith and it takes faith to feel the need to seek forgiveness early rather than when we feel the effects.   This resonated with me because I’ve been dealing a persistent fault in my character that brings regret at the end of the day if I don’t continually fight it.  It has been a source of some consternation to me that the regret is delayed, so Elder Eyring’s explanation was helpful.  I have hope that Christ will help me overcome my fault as I put all my effort into the fight.  Someday I will have enough experience with the deliciousness of acting as I should that it will be a better motivation than to avoid the pain of regret.

Richard G. Scott shared some great principles about being a righteous influence on people.  He used some excellent examples of people who loved him who influenced him to become much more than he would have otherwise.  I look forward to studying his talk so I can better distill those principles of influence.  I think we as members want to be a good influence on others and it is possible that we might go about it in the wrong way and alienate people if we don’t do it with love and trust.  We have to be so careful these days that we may inadvertent suspicion and judgment of others on accident.

A lot of speakers talked about being obedient to the commandments.  I feel like I needed that.  The thing that is refreshing about the principle of obedience is that it helps you realize whether you’ve developed patterns of thought involving avoidance or rationalization.  Obedience is direct and unblinking.  It requires you to act without being daunted.  

I think Elder Hales talk had some intriguing things in it, like mentioning that Christ learned obedience by the things He suffered.   I think I’m going to have to pray about this to understand it because the only connection I can currently draw about suffering to learn obedience is suffering from consequences of disobedience, yet we know Christ did not sin.  Maybe the suffering came from being constantly stretched?

I loved Elder Zivic’s story about his son who used to hide when it was time for piano lessons but then came to love playing music.  This resonated with me because I teach a few piano students and I’ve had the pleasure of hearing from one of the mothers enthusing that her son now looks forward to playing.  I loved how Elder Zivic made the comparison that we want to come to the point that we are willing to be obedient to the commandments on our own instead of having to be reminded.

Bishop Gary E Stephenson’s comparison of mortal life to a four-minute Olympic performance was powerful because of how it emphasizes the importance of our decisions now.   I think mortal life does one better than the Olympic games though.  Olympic athletes don’t have their memory of all their years of training taken away and then have to relearn their sport in 2 weeks before they compete.

Elder Bednar’s story of the four-wheel-drive truck and how having a load helped increase traction in the snow was very good.  The insight that was conveyed with the help of this story is quite amazing, and I find myself wondering what got him thinking about it and pondering to the extent that he was able to derive those lessons from it. 

As for the message itself, it directly addressed an issue I have struggled with for a number of years.   Happiness is not an absence of load, but the right kind of load.  These questions Elder Bedar presented for us to ask ourselves are really good ones: “Is the load I am carrying producing spiritual traction for me to press forward?   Is my load creating traction to return home to Heavenly Father?”   They kind of sound rhetorical, but I notice that when I analyze the loads in my life, I can kind of see what things produce spiritual traction in my life and what things don’t help much.  I can see what things allow me to progress and what things are distractions.   Considering all the things that can distract us in life, I think this is really good to think about. 

For instance, I’ve noted before that I’m trying my hand at writing fiction these days.  In conjunction with that, I am reading a lot of books, especially fantasy fiction in order to find out where the holes are in the field and where I might be able to contribute.   If I analyze what I spend my time on, I can see that to read too much does not allow me to progress because I have less time for writing, efforts that actually produce traction towards progression.  So I have a time limit for my fiction reading during the day.  (And then I’ll let myself read to relax at night.)  For spiritual traction, I have to read the scriptures every day.  I don’t do well without it.

Elder Packer has seen Christ.  It’s pretty plain from his testimony at the end of his talk.

Elder William R. Walker talked about what a great thing it would be if everyone knew the history of how their ancestors converted to the gospel.  I know a few conversion stories from my family tree and I agree that it helps me feel more connected to them and has helped me to make righteous choices.  I have a great-great-grandfather who was converted in the southern states in the midst of much hostility toward the church and its missionaries.  I have a grandmother who knew the Bible really well and gave the missionaries a run for their money before she was finally converted.  I also have been affected by stories my mom has told me of when she had to stand up for what was right in middle of peer pressure.

I really liked that Elder Michael John U. Teh listed some particular things that are treasures in heaven.  The expression treasures in heaven is kind of vague by itself, so anyone who can give it specificity is very helpful.    And somehow when he was listing those specific things—Christlike attributes, strengthening families, serving others, strengthening our testimony of Christ--I really felt how valuable they are. 

I have been challenged and blessed by general conference.  I also hope I can do better at studying the conference addresses than I have in the past.  From the reflections I’ve shared it probably sounds like I have serious problems, but I suppose all of us heard things that reminded us of what we need to do better, so I’m trying to be honest about my experience, if not specific.   What parts of conference do you feel corrected you?

Saturday, April 5, 2014 2 comments

How is the Holy Ghost always to be with each of us when there are many of us?

You may have heard someone ask this question, or you may have asked it yourself--
"How can each member always have the Holy Ghost to be with them when there are so many members of the church?"
This is a good question, and there are probably things the Holy Ghost can do as a spirit that we don’t know much about, and I think we need more revelation on how it is done, but I can share a metaphor that has satisfied me so far so that I have faith that he is with worthy members, each and all.

When I was in high school, we got to go see a laser light show.  At the beginning, they showed us a single green dot on the screen and explained this was the only laser they used.  They moved the dot back and forth slowly in a line, then faster and faster until the path of the dot blurred together and appeared to become a solid line.  To our perception that single dot was everywhere on the line at once.  Then they took that line and began to form it into all kinds of curving shapes and designs that morphed from one thing to the next, and the whole show consisted of this kind of thing set to music.  As I considered that all of that laser animation was made of a green dot moving faster than my eye could follow, my brain just about exploded.
Perhaps the Holy Ghost moves among us faster than we can detect.  Yes, this is speculation, and the mechanics by which the Holy Ghost can be simultaneously with us may be something different, but this metaphor helps me have faith that the promise about having the presence of the Holy Ghost can be fulfilled.  If a laser dot can seem to be everywhere in a line, it’s definitely a cinch for the Holy Ghost to be everywhere the members are.
Thursday, April 3, 2014 2 comments

Murmuring and Rebellion about Priesthood Leadership in Numbers 16

Numbers 16 holds a story about murmuring that is still applicable today to the extent that we have people demanding the priesthood.

1 Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men:
2 And they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown:
3 And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?

Who are these people who are rising up against Moses? 
These were Levites who had charge of transporting the sacred things of the temple.  There were also descendants of Reuben, and they may have resented Moses’ leadership, thinking that they should have had that place.

What is their problem with Moses?
They think he is taking too much power and lifting himself up above everyone.  They argue that “all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them” and so no one has any right to be above anyone else.

The problem with this argument is, considering the history the Israelites have of murmuring and rebelling, they aren’t holy. 
You have to wonder why they don’t remember the incident when Aaron and Miriam spoke against Moses and how that resulted in Miriam getting stricken with leprosy. 

4 And when Moses heard it, he fell upon his face:
5 And he spake unto Korah and unto all his company, saying, Even to morrow the Lord will shew who are his, and who is holy; and will cause him to come near unto him: even him whom he hath chosen will he cause to come near unto him.
6 This do; Take you censers, Korah, and all his company;
7 And put fire therein, and put incense in them before the Lord to morrow: and it shall be that the man whom the Lord doth choose, he shall be holy: ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi.
8 And Moses said unto Korah, Hear, I pray you, ye sons of Levi:
9 Seemeth it but a small thing unto you, that the God of Israel hath separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself to do the service of the tabernacle of the Lord, and to stand before the congregation to minister unto them?
10 And he hath brought thee near to him, and all thy brethren the sons of Levi with thee: and seek ye the priesthood also?
11 For which cause both thou and all thy company are gathered together against the Lord: and what is Aaron, that ye murmur against him?

Moses sees that these men are angling for greater authority than they already have.  We get an extra insight from the JST of verse 10, which shows us they were seeking the high priesthood, which lets us know they already had the Levitical priesthood.

Moses communicates an important principle in the above verses:
“the Lord will shew who are his, and who is holy”
“the man whom the Lord doth choose, he shall be holy”
Moses knows from his own experience that a person doesn’t call himself to priesthood office.  After all, the Lord chose him to be a prophet, and he would have refused the call if he could.  He knows the Lord does the choosing, regardless of what man wants, and he knows that the Lord demonstrates who has been chosen.

Korah and his people seem to have thought that it wouldn’t matter one way or another to the Lord who was given the high priesthood.  They may have thought one person could do those duties just as well as any other.  (They may have been thinking too much of physical qualifications and not enough about the spiritual qualifications, like humility and meekness.)

Moses knew different, so he proposed a test: all the 250 could come to the temple, each with their own censer and incense and they could all perform the priest’s duties of burning incense and he promised them that the Lord would show them who He had chosen to be priests. 

The question would have arisen in their minds—“How will I know if the Lord has chosen me or not?”  They didn’t know beforehand what the sign of God’s choice would be, but I don’t think they took it seriously.  (They were rebelling against Moses, after all.)  When you think about it, the Lord could do two different things to indicate His choice—He could especially bless the person He chose and none of the others, or He could destroy those He didn’t choose and leave His chosen unharmed.   (As it happens, the Lord does both of these; He destroys the presumptuous first in Numbers 16 and then shows where His particular choice is in Numbers 17 with the miracle of Aaron’s rod that budded.)

But first Moses tried to remind Korah and his people of the privileges they already enjoyed.  They were permitted to come near the Lord as they took care of the tabernacle and helped minister to the congregation.  But they didn’t seem to think this was anything special.  With that kind of attitude, it is a sure bet that if they had been given what they wanted, they would have come to despise that as well.

Moses also tried to show them that by complaining about who the priesthood was given to or not given to, they weren’t murmuring against Aaron because Aaron was just the instrument of God.  They were murmuring against the Lord who did the choosing.

12 ¶And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab: which said, We will not come up:
13 Is it a small thing that thou hast brought us up out of a land that floweth with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, except thou make thyself altogether a prince over us?
14 Moreover thou hast not brought us into a land that floweth with milk and honey, or given us inheritance of fields and vineyards: wilt thou put out the eyes of these men? we will not come up.

It seems that some of the ringleaders refused to participate in the test that Moses proposed on the grounds it was another instance of Moses grabbing power.  They further complained that Egypt had been a good place to live and they had been led away from it and there was nothing to show for all Israel’s journeying.   Moses had promised them a land flowing with milk and honey but hadn’t delivered.

They seem to have forgotten that they had been brought to the borders of Canaan but had refused to enter after the spies’ report had scared them.  (This blatant forgetfulness seems even more obvious to Bible readers because that account comes just two chapters before this.)  They didn’t believe the Lord could help them conquer Canaan, they refused to go up, and then they accused Moses of not leading them where they refused to go?  Sheesh!

This is a place where we love to come down hard on the Israelites, but if we do that, we lose the value of the story.  It’s there as instruction for us, so we need to look really carefully at our lives to see if there is some way that we do the same thing.  Do we hang back from following the Lord and then complain that his promises aren’t being fulfilled when it is our disobedience that has prevented the blessing?

15 And Moses was very wroth, and said unto the Lord, Respect not thou their offering: I have not taken one ass from them, neither have I hurt one of them.

Here we have another example of Moses blowing off steam to the Lord, which is much better than taking it out on the rebels.  We may be a little surprised at his request to the Lord that He “respect not…their offering,” but this shows us how desperate Moses was for the Lord to vindicate him.  Moses knew he had done no one any harm, but rather done them much good, and it was only their jealous perspective that made them dissatisfied.  Jealousy causes people to feel wronged when they haven’t actually been.

16 And Moses said unto Korah, Be thou and all thy company before the Lord, thou, and they, and Aaron, to morrow:
17 And take every man his censer, and put incense in them, and bring ye before the Lord every man his censer, two hundred and fifty censers; thou also, and Aaron, each of you his censer.
18 And they took every man his censer, and put fire in them, and laid incense thereon, and stood in the door of the tabernacle of the congregation with Moses and Aaron.
19 And Korah gathered all the congregation against them unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: and the glory of the Lord appeared unto all the congregation.
20 And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,
21 Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.
22 And they fell upon their faces, and said, O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and wilt thou be wroth with all the congregation?

Moses simply repeats the invitation to Korah and his rebellious followers that they come offer incense at the tabernacle and find out who has been chosen. 

So they come.  And as they gather, the Lord appears and says He will consume the whole congregation in a moment.  This may seem extreme to us, especially since so often the Lord in this and other instances allows Himself to be persuaded to be merciful, but I think it has an instructive purpose.  It is a reminder to us that these people (and by extention us too) were not yet worthy to enter back into the Lord’s presence.  If judgment came at that moment, they (and we) would be all consumed.  Moses and Aaron’s plea to spare the people is a type of Christ’s intercession giving more probationary time for repentance.   It’s a reminder that we all figuratively walk on thin ice and have to be careful not to offend the Lord.

Moses and Aaron plead for the people.  They argue, “Shall one man sin, and wilt thou be wroth with all the congregation?”  It seems they realized that there wasn’t a majority convinced by Korah and his people; it was instead a very vocal minority making this trouble. 

23 ¶And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
24 Speak unto the congregation, saying, Get you up from about the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.
25 And Moses rose up and went unto Dathan and Abiram; and the elders of Israel followed him.
26 And he spake unto the congregation, saying, Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest ye be consumed in all their sins.
27 So they gat up from the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, on every side: and Dathan and Abiram came out, and stood in the door of their tents, and their wives, and their sons, and their little children.

It is very interesting that these verses speak of “the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.”  It sounds like it might just mean their tents, but I suspect that Moses wanted us to understand that by rebelling against the Lord and the organization of the priests at the tabernacle, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram had set up their own tabernacle in opposition to the Lord’s tabernacle.

Moses told the congregation to remove themselves away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram to prevent becoming consumed in all their sins.  This is very good advice even today.  When there are people who rebel against church leaders or cause division and contention with their stories of grievance, the smartest thing we can do is “touch nothing of theirs” or refrain from taking up their case, lest we become personally consumed and obsessed by it. 

As everyone moves away from them, Dathan and Abiram come out and stand in the door of their tents with their wives and their sons and their little children.  From things I’ve read about what happens at the door of tents, this seems to be a cultural method of making a public statement.  We see their discontent infected their whole family because their whole family stood together.  If it had been for something good, this could have been a nice story of family solidarity and standing for the right, but as it was to uphold their grievance against the prophet, it is a sad example of stubbornness.

28 And Moses said, Hereby ye shall know that the Lord hath sent me to do all these works; for I have not done them of mine own mind.
29 If these men die the common death of all men, or if they be visited after the visitation of all men; then the Lord hath not sent me.
30 But if the Lord make a new thing, and the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertain unto them, and they go down quick into the pit; then ye shall understand that these men have provoked the Lord.
31 ¶And it came to pass, as he had made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground clave asunder that was under them:
32 And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods.
33 They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation.
34 And all Israel that were round about them fled at the cry of them: for they said, Lest the earth swallow us up also.

If Korah and his people were looking for a sign, they got a sign alright, but it was to their condemnation. 

Moses did not have power on his own to cause the earthquake to happen which swallowed the rebels up.  It happened because the Lord backed Moses up.

You don’t often hear of these kinds of signs happening when the prophet says something is going to happen and then it does almost immediately.  Usually the prophecy and the fulfillment have much more space between them, which requires us to exercise our faith.  If we can do that, then we receive blessings.  In this case, the fulfillment came immediately and brought condemnation because they were not willing to exercise their faith.

35 And there came out a fire from the Lord, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense.

Here we see that the Lord indicated His displeasure toward those who aspired to the high priesthood and offered incense contrary to their assigned duties.  They were like Cain, who offered an offering contrary to what had been commanded, and just as the Lord didn’t have respect to Cain’s offering, the Lord did not have respect to these 250 men, though here the penalty was immediate and more severe.

36 ¶And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
37 Speak unto Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest, that he take up the censers out of the burning, and scatter thou the fire yonder; for they are hallowed.
38 The censers of these sinners against their own souls, let them make them broad plates for a covering of the altar: for they offered them before the Lord, therefore they are hallowed: and they shall be a sign unto the children of Israel.
39 And Eleazar the priest took the brasen censers, wherewith they that were burnt had offered; and they were made broad plates for a covering of the altar:
40 To be a memorial unto the children of Israel, that no stranger, which is not of the seed of Aaron, come near to offer incense before the Lord; that he be not as Korah, and as his company: as the Lord said to him by the hand of Moses.

It seems really odd that the 250 censers would be considered holy and would be beaten into a covering for the altar.  I think it may have to do with the principle that the men were punished for their own sins and justice had been satisfied, such that the censors weren’t cursed. 

Making the censers into an altar covering makes sense if you look at the spiritual lessons it could teach.  The altar covering would be a barrier that would protect the altar from being defiled and protect people from touching it in a sinful state.  The covering would also remind people of the story of rebellion to warn them, essentially acting like a barrier to prevent them from committing the same sin. 

41 ¶But on the morrow all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, Ye have killed the people of the Lord.

The effrontery of this accusation is staggering to us.  The Lord judged and punished the rebels in a miraculous way and now the rest of the people accuse Moses and Aaron of killing “the people of the Lord?” 

What we see here is a total mismatch of perspectives between the Lord’s way and the people’s way.  The people are not concerned with being holy.  They operate from a place of social practicality that ignores offenses that are permitted according to their previous traditions, and they look at what happened to Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and the 250 thinking that the punishment was all out of proportion to the offense.  You can almost hear them protesting, “They were good people and you killed them!”  The Lord, in contrast, wants His people to be holy so they can be brought back into His presence.  When holiness is the goal, there is no room for little traditional sins, or any sin for that matter.  Any sin merits death and our life continues only on His sufferance in hopes we will repent.  If after knowing the truth of the gospel we demonstrate determination to rebel and sin anyway, He is right to remove us from the scene as it mercifully caps the amount of sins we will have to suffer for. 

Unhappily, when the people question the obvious judgment that the Lord brought upon the rebels, they set themselves in opposition to the Lord.  And that leads to consequences.
42 And it came to pass, when the congregation was gathered against Moses and against Aaron, that they looked toward the tabernacle of the congregation: and, behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord appeared.
43 And Moses and Aaron came before the tabernacle of the congregation.
44 ¶And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
45 Get you up from among this congregation, that I may consume them as in a moment. And they fell upon their faces.
46 ¶And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a censer, and put fire therein from off the altar, and put on incense, and go quickly unto the congregation, and make an atonement for them: for there is wrath gone out from the Lord; the plague is begun.
47 And Aaron took as Moses commanded, and ran into the midst of the congregation; and, behold, the plague was begun among the people: and he put on incense, and made an atonement for the people.
48 And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed.
49 Now they that died in the plague were fourteen thousand and seven hundred, beside them that died about the matter of Korah.
50 And Aaron returned unto Moses unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: and the plague was stayed.
I notice that so often when the Israelites begin to murmur, judgment from the Lord comes in the form of a plague.  The disease would not have spread if the people had been following the cleanliness rules of the Law of Moses regarding who and what to wash when.  Their lack of confidence in Moses led to laxness in following his counsel about sanitation (among other things), which led to conditions that transmitted and spread disease.

Aaron clearly acted as a type of Christ, advocating for Israel when he burned incense among the congregation, making atonement for them instead of separating himself from them.  Also, the way he came among them, prefigured how Christ condescended to come among mortal men and atone for us, becoming as one who might die.  As Aaron stood as a divider between the dead and the living, Christ is the border between the dead and the living because to go from the dead side to the living side you have to go through Him.

As I’ve been reading through the Old Testament, it is amazing to me how many types of Christ there are.  Some I’ve known about before, others I’m discovering in unexpected places.