Thursday, May 26, 2016 0 comments

Zeniff's powers of persuasion

I suspect that Zeniff was a very persuasive fellow.  Consider the instances when he used his persuasion:

1) As a member of the first group sent to re-colonize Nephi-Lehi, Zeniff contended with his people to try to convince them to make a treaty with the Lamanites instead of invading and destroying them.  He convinced enough people that the leader seems to have wanted to permanently shut him up by commanding that he be slain.  (Zeniff must have had a lot of good arguments, but in his record he merely says, “I saw that which was good among them.” Ostensibly, he suppresses his reasoning in his record because it won’t fit well with his final indictment of the Lamanite culture.  He is reluctant to seem inconsistent; few of us like to seem inconsistent so we should be able to understand this..)

2) Zeniff returns to Zarahemla with the 50 who were not slain in the contention, and he tells the tale of what happened to everyone else in a persuasive enough way that the families of those who were slain do not seek retribution. 

Zeniff’s account in Mosiah 9:2 says he contended with his brethren not to kill the Lamanites, but in another account in Omni 1:28 by Amaleki, the story is that the leader caused a contention among them.  Amaleki may have gotten the official story told to the families, whereas in Zeniff’s own account he feels free enough to give a different view, perhaps one closer to what actually happened. 

As I think about the version in Omni, it does seem very odd that a leader would cause a contention among a group.  Usually someone else besides the leader causes a contention.  The leader represents the official policy, and others with different alternatives cause contention.

3) Zeniff manages to convince ANOTHER party of Nephites to come on a second colonizing party even after the first one failed.  He seems to have been able to persuade them that a peaceful settlement among the Lamanites was a cinch and they had nothing to worry about.  He didn’t even know where they would settle, yet he was able to make it sound possible and reasonable.  Also take into account that he didn’t even know the disposition of the Lamanite king yet. 

4) Once Zeniff returned to Nephi-Lehi, he was able to persuade the Lamanite king to give up some of Lamanite lands, evacuate his people, and let the Nephites settle in their place.  Zeniffi later attributes his success to Lamanite cunning plans to destroy and bring Nephites into bondage, but I can’t help but wonder why the Lamanites would wait a full 12 years before attacking instead of attacking at the beginning?  Why would they not try to bring them into bondage at the beginning as well?  Wouldn’t they try to make some sort of tribute agreement?

Another detail I noticed that makes me wonder is the fact that Zeniff says in Mosiah 9:6 that the Lamanite king covenanted with Zeniff that the Nephites would possess the land of Lehi-Nephi and the land of Shilom.   “Covenant” usually means a two-way promise.  Yet Zeniff only records one side—what the Lamanites would do for the Nephites (give up land).  It seems extraordinarily generous of the Lamanites to just vacate their land immediately like that, especially if they were as bloodthirsty, hateful, fierce, and cunning as Zeniff later insists they are. 

I suspect that Zeniff actually had an obligation of his own to fulfill in this covenant, but that he chose not to record it.  I suspect that he promised to provide the Lamanites with a certain amount of tribute crops and animals.  Then, I suspect that after 12 years, that burden of tribute began to feel too obnoxious, so he decided to skip paying it. 

So now, consider that first Lamanite attack on the Nephites that comes out of the blue after 12 years of peace.  Its focus is rather unusual.  Instead of attacking the city, the Lamanite army attacks the Nephites in their fields.  Then they start taking off their flocks and the corn of their fields.  It is like the Lamanites are hungry. 

However, this makes perfect sense if you assume that Zeniff agreed to a tribute of food and then didn’t pay it on the 12th year.  He even inserts his reasoning that the Lamanites were lazy, idolatrous, and wanted to glut themselves on the labors of the Nephites hands.  This is the same kind of resentful grumbling you will hear from people determined to avoid paying their taxes.  “The government is stealing from us. The government is a parasite!” they will say.  If Zeniff withheld tribute, then the Lamanite army attack would be completely understandable.  They would be sent to collect what was agreed upon. 

Another point of Zeniff’s narrative that makes me wonder is his description of the reason for the second battle the Lamanites start with the Nephites.  He says that the new king of the Lamanites began to stir up his people in rebellion against Zeniff’s people (Mosiah 10:6).  Rebellion is such an interesting word here.  It implies that somehow Zeniff’s people had gained some sort of ascendancy, as if they were starting to subjugate the Lamanites.  I have to wonder if this actually describes the reality, or if Zeniff was just twisting the narrative a little.

But either way, calling the Lamanite attack a rebellion raises questions.  If the Lamanites were rebelling against Nephite domination, then Zeniff actually kept some very important contextual information out of his record.  On the other hand, if Zeniff called it a rebellion when it was nothing of the kind, then he bent the truth for his own purposes.  One way he withheld truth, another way he bent the truth.

(Things that make you go, “Hmmmmm..”)

Anyway, all these little details, little inconsistencies add up to a picture of a man who was very persuasive and who was skilled at bending the truth to whatever purpose he had in mind, even going so far as to rewrite his version of history.

Now, when a ruler is adept at bending the truth for his purposes according to circumstances, what are the ruler’s children going to learn to do?   They will do the same, and they may push things even further.  

Thus, this accounts for the wild mismatch of views between King Noah and his wicked priests on one hand and Abinadi on the other about what is happening in the land.  King Noah and his wicked priests are bending the truth and not only have they bent the Nephite historical narrative, they are now bending the Law of Moses to fit their purposes.  Abinadi’s view represents the clear truth to which the Lord desires to bring the people back.
Tuesday, May 24, 2016 0 comments

Three Different Ways King Mosiah was Righteous

And it came to pass that king Mosiah did walk in the ways of the Lord, and did observe his judgments and his statutes, and did keep his commandments in all things whatsoever he commanded him. (Mosiah 6:6)
Somehow this verse caught my eye.  It seems to say three different times that Mosiah was a good man and a good king, but with different wording.  This made me wonder if it simply said it three times or if it was describing different aspects of his righteousness.    (Aha, analysis is called for!)

“king Mosiah did walk in the ways of the Lord” – This uses the metaphor of righteousness as a path.  King Mosiah had to know that path—what the Lord’s ways were—in order to walk in it.  He probably asked himself the question, “What would the Lord do?” when faced with something tricky.   Is walking in the Lord’s ways accidental?  No, it has to be deliberate. It has to be learned and practiced.

"[Mosiah] did observe his [the Lord’s] judgments and his statutes" – The word observe has a number of meanings that help us here. 4 of 9 possible definitions are the following:
--show respect towards
--behave as expected during holidays or rites
--stick to correctly or closely
--conform one’s action or practice to

Another interesting thing is that the words “judgments” and “statues” imply the existence of certain things.  Observing judgments in once sense implies noticing the judgments of God at work and pointing out how natural consequences fit with the Lord’s commandments. Or, it might imply sticking with the precedents formed by a body of case law. Observing statutes implies keeping to smaller facilitating laws.

“[Mosiah] did keep his [the Lord’s] commandments in all things whatsoever he commanded him” – This shows us Mosiah received personal revelation and followed it. We get the account of several instances of his doing this. 1) translating the 24 plates Limhi’s people brought with them, and 2) receiving revelation that he should let his four reconverted sons go preach to the Lamanites. Changing the Nephite government from monarchy to a judge-ruled government may have been part of this, but that is only speculation.

So, having examined these things more closely, we see that those three phrases about Mosiah’s righteousness describe different aspects.  It may strike you as it has struck me that they aren’t only for kings.  We also can walk in the ways of the Lord, observe His statutes and judgments in our stewardships, and keep the Lord’s commandments in all things He commands us.    What a heaven this world would be if we all did that.
Sunday, May 22, 2016 0 comments

Alma as a type of Christ

15 And now it came to pass that Alma, having seen the afflictions of the humble followers of God, and the persecutions which were heaped upon them by the remainder of his people, and seeing all their inequality, began to be very sorrowful; nevertheless the Spirit of the Lord did not fail him.
16 And he selected a wise man who was among the elders of the church, and gave him power according to the voice of the people, that he might have power to enact laws according to the laws which had been given, and to put them in force according to the wickedness and the crimes of the people….
18 Now Alma did not grant unto him the office of being high priest over the church, but he retained the office of high priest unto himself; but he delivered the judgment-seat unto Nephihah.
19 And this he did that he himself might go forth among his people, or among the people of Nephi, that he might preach the word of God unto them, to stir them up in remembrance of their duty, and that he might pull down, by the word of God, all the pride and craftiness and all the contentions which were among his people, seeing no way that he might reclaim them save it were in bearing down in pure testimony against them.
20 And thus in the commencement of the ninth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, Alma delivered up the judgment-seat to Nephihah, and confined himself wholly to the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to the testimony of the word, according to the spirit of revelation and prophecy. (Alma 4:15-20)

These verses describe how Alma gave the office of chief judge to someone else and retained the office of high priest so he could go out and preach to the people to try to reclaim them.

It struck me that Alma here was a type of Christ’s condescension among men.

Christ is both our judge and high priest. He put aside His role as judge for a time to come down as high priest among men to preach and testify in order to save us.

Probably a very small insight, but it is still neat to find types of Christ in the Book of Mormon where I didn’t notice them before. 
Friday, May 20, 2016 0 comments

Is it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?

D&C 50 was given because the elders did not understand the manifestations of different spirits that were abroad on the earth, which were not uncommon among the members, some of whom claimed to be receiving visions and revelations.

12 Now, when a man reasoneth he is understood of man, because he reasoneth as a man; even so will I, the Lord, reason with you that you may understand.
13 Wherefore, I the Lord ask you this question—unto what were ye ordained?
14 To preach my gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth.
15 And then received ye spirits which ye could not understand, and received them to be of God; and in this are ye justified?
16 Behold ye shall answer this question yourselves; nevertheless, I will be merciful unto you; he that is weak among you hereafter shall be made strong.
17 Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?
18 And if it be by some other way it is not of God.
19 And again, he that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?
20 If it be some other way it is not of God.
21 Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth?
22 Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.
23 And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness. (D&C 50:12-23)

One of the great things these verses teach is that the elders must preach by the Spirit of truth, and the listeners must receive the preaching of the Spirit of truth. I notice there is a lot of repetition and emphasis on the word “preach” in these verses, which would be very helpful to the Saints. The manifestations they wondered about did not involve preaching, but instead involved strange movements, fits, and generally disorderly conduct. Thus, emphasizing preaching would eventually filter out the weird stuff people did.

(Today we focus a little more on the part about having the Spirit of truth, as opposed to perhaps the spirit of speculation or the spirit of contention and controversy or the spirit of emotionalism.)

When the church was restored, there were a lot of false ideas about how someone under the influence of the Spirit would act that were borrowed from other sects. People were familiar with what happened at big revival meetings and may have thought that they had to demonstrate some sort of odd or unusual behavior to prove they were converted or prove they were influenced by the Holy Ghost. And if they couldn’t identify for themselves what the Spirit really did, or if its influence was different from what they thought would happen, or if it didn’t help them prove their spirituality like they thought it should, their insecurity might tempt them to make something up or act odd as though that were the Spirit.

Emphasizing preaching by the Spirit and the necessity for edification helped the Saints know that only edifying demonstrations should be received as from God. Intelligence should be gained by both the preacher and the listener.
Wednesday, May 18, 2016 0 comments

I will have mercy and not sacrifice

10 ¶And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples.
11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?
12 But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.
13 But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Matthew 9:10-13)

I knew that Jesus said he was sent to heal the spiritual sick, but I was a bit confused about that part in verse 13. I had this idea Jesus was saying the Pharisees should be merciful to the sinners, or else saying He as the Son of God wanted to have mercy for his disciples rather than their sacrifices.

This time when I read it, I noticed a footnote to Hosea 6:6, which I went and looked at, including its context. I got a different impression from the meaning than I had before.

4 ¶O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.
5 Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth: and thy judgments are as the light that goeth forth.
6 For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:4-6)

Hosea called attention to how transitory Israel’s righteousness was, and how quickly they wandered from God. The words of the prophets, since they spoke the Law of Moses, taught them the right way, but also revealed how lost and fallen they were.

Therefore, the proper attitude of worship when making sacrifices was to seek for God’s mercy with faith in the Messiah’s sacrifice, rather than exulting in one’s own obedience. If they approached their sacrifices with an attitude of, “Look at me; I’m so obedient to offer sacrifices,” then they totally missed the point. But if they approached it from the perspective of, “I need to be redeemed; I need the mercy from the Messiah’s atonement, which my sacrifice is meant to remind me of,” then they would be prepared for the Lord’s redeeming power to work on them.

So when Jesus told the Pharisees to learn what Hosea meant about wanting mercy more than sacrifice, He meant they needed to learn their need for His mercy.  They hadn’t realized that yet. They thought they were enough by themselves.

Every once in a while, you hear people spouting that affirming line, “You are enough,” in order to encourage people who feel inadequate.  No, we are not enough. We need the Lord’s mercy.  We are not enough, but His grace is sufficient.
Monday, May 16, 2016 0 comments

Sifting as Chaff

And let my servant Lyman Wight beware, for Satan desireth to sift him as chaff. (D&C 52:12) has some little explanation about this that I thought useful to include:

"Chaff is the non-nutritious waste product of wheat and is separated from the grain by the wind when it is tossed into the air. This process is called sifting. Chaff is like a rudderless vessel that is driven at will by the wind. Satan desires to sift the Saints like chaff, to separate them from the soul-saving, nutritious grain of the gospel and carry them away in the winds of wickedness." (Hoyt W. Brewster, Jr., Doctrine and Covenants Encyclopedia [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988], 520.)

"[Lyman Wight] had been ordained a High Priest at the Conference and had received a vision. He was a most zealous and successful missionary. He was fearless as a lion in the defense of the Saints, and he was a terror to the enemy. At the April Conference, 1841, he was appointed an Apostle. But, notwithstanding all, there was a flaw in his character which the Lord saw, and of which He warned him in this Revelation. In April, 1844, he was tried before the High Council at Far West for teaching false doctrine. He acknowledged his fault then and was forgiven. But, after the martyrdom of the Prophet. he declared that he would not turn his hand over to be one of the Twelve, and when the Saints went to the Rocky Mountains, as the Prophet Joseph had predicted they would do, he and George Miller led a small company to Texas. Wight died in that State, March 31, 1858." (Hyrum M. Smith and Janne M. Sjodahl, Doctrine and Covenants Commentary [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978], 305.)

So back to this idea of chaff being like a rudderless vessel driven at will by the wind. There are two problems that can cause us to behave like chaff more than grain. 1) Rudderless- without using our agency to choose, we let others steer our lives. 2) Driven by the wind – without our own good purposes to drive us and motivate us, without the Lord’s purposes to bring about our immortality and eternal life, we are at the mercy of the purposes and drives of others and every wind of doctrine in society.

Furthermore, our faults in our character give Satan an opening to try to chisel us away from the Saints and the church. In Lyman Wight’s case, he seems to have been okay as long as Joseph Smith was alive, but once Joseph was dead, something in him balked at uniting with and working with the other apostles. He didn’t acknowledge their authority or see why he should unite with them.

We all have some particular weakness(es) that Satan will try to use to separate us from the church. We don’t have specific warnings addressed to us in the Doctrine and Covenants like Lyman Wight, but we do have patriarchal blessings, which usually have particular warnings in them. I have warnings in mine that I did not understand the need for until maybe 20 years after getting it.

Saturday, May 14, 2016 0 comments

Pre-conversion Alma the Younger

My husband and I were reading Mosiah 27 about the conversion story of Alma the Younger, and it seemed to me that it was impossible that he had not been taught the gospel by his father Alma while growing up.  It’s easy to wonder where Alma the Younger started to go wrong.

Mosiah 26 describes a great purge of the church, when many members who were unrepentantly sinning were cut off. It is perfectly possible that Alma the Younger and the four sons of Mosiah were cut off from the church for their wickedness at that time.  Later, Alma the Younger himself later tells of how he and Mosiah’s four sons went forth with anger and mighty threatenings to destroy the church (Alma 26:18).  That sounds very much like the anger of someone who felt they had been excommunicated unjustly, someone who rebelled against the authority of the priesthood.

Alma the Younger may have convinced himself that what happened to him and his friends was unjust and that the church needed reform.

So, part of what the angel’s visit would have settled for Alma the Younger and Mosiah’s four sons was that his father was right and was on God’s side, that God did have power and that Alma the Younger was wrong.  And if he was wrong, then his efforts to fix the church were wrong and amounted to persecution  and destruction rather than reform.

The cool thing about Alma the Younger’s conversion story is that it shows us that even an angry ex-member of the Church is not a lost cause. It shows us Alma the Elder’s example of praying for those who separate themselves from us and for those who have been cut off for transgression.  They may yet be brought to the knowledge of the truth.

Thursday, May 12, 2016 3 comments

Why a Serpent in the Garden of Eden?

Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? (Genesis 3:1)

I have wondered for a while why the writer of Genesis used a serpent to represent Satan in the story of the Fall.

Lately, because of some experiences I’ve had, I’ve realized why. As Genesis says, the serpent was more subtle than any beast, and Satan is also subtle.  Satan will slither into our thoughts just like a snake when we don’t notice and he will try to plant some lie there. If we’re not aware, we will believe it, and then we’ll make choices based on the lie, which will get us into trouble.

So what do we do? We have to do our best to club him to death when we are presented with his lies or notice them sneaking in.

When God confronts Satan for tempting Adam and Eve, He says this:

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. (Genesis 3:15)

That bruising the serpent’s head expresses beating down the lies and not listening to them. Satan keeps trying to tempt us though, so we have to kill the lies over and over again.

In the temple narrative, however, God says something slightly different. Instead of saying that the seed of the woman would bruise Satan’s head, God says the woman’s seed will crush the serpent’s head.  To me that prophesies of several things: 1) how Christ would resist every temptation presented to Him, 2) that Christ would defeat spiritual death with the atonement, 3) that Christ would overcome physical death so we would not be endlessly dead and subject to the devil, and 4) that with Christ’s help we will be able to resist temptation.

I take great comfort in that bit about crushing the serpent’s head. If I can keep beating down the lies as they are presented, by the grace of God, someday they will be crushed, never more to rise again.
Tuesday, May 10, 2016 0 comments

The Greatness of the Task

I was feeling burdened a few days ago by the demands of my particular leadership calling in cub scouts, and I felt I needed some scriptures to help buoy me up. I headed for my scriptures with a prayer in my heart that Heavenly Father would help me flip instantly to something that would help me.

Here’s where I turned to:

8 And it supposeth me that they have come up hither to hear the pleasing word of God, yea, the word which healeth the wounded soul.
9 Wherefore, it burdeneth my soul that I should be constrained, because of the strict commandment which I have received from God, to admonish you according to your crimes, to enlarge the wounds of those who are already wounded, instead of consoling and healing their wounds; and those who have not been wounded, instead of feasting upon the pleasing word of God have daggers placed to pierce their souls and wound their delicate minds.
10 But, notwithstanding the greatness of the task, I must do according to the strict commands of God… (Jacob 2:8-10)

This was from Jacob, who was about to deliver a chastity talk and an anti-pride-and-materialism talk to the Nephites.

At first I wondered whether I was going to be admonished for sins that I didn’t realize I had. 

But then what suddenly struck me were Jacob’s words of how burdened he felt by the constraint of the Spirit to follow the commandment to admonish the people. But notwithstanding the great task and the overwhelm he felt as a leader, he waded into it determined to do what the Lord asked of him.

Aha! I thought, Another leader has felt overwhelmed by the demands of their calling. I’m not alone. Not that I’m required to admonish people for their sins right now, but it is neat to 1) find this openness in the scriptures about the burden of leadership and 2) find it right when I needed it.  Heavenly Father had answered my prayer, and that gave me just the encouragement I needed to get back to the stuff I needed to do.

See? Heavenly Father answers our prayers to receive knowledge and encouragement from the scriptures.

I honor and salute the church leaders, past and present, who do their duty despite their overwhelm, and who do it with such grace.  Sometimes it can seem like I am the only one who struggles. Maybe you feel the same in your calling.  Jacob’s words show us his struggle, and then we see his obedience and we can see how the Lord magnified his efforts. That gives hope that the Lord can also magnify our efforts.
Saturday, May 7, 2016 0 comments

The Lord making bare His arm

10 And I would, my brethren, that ye should know that all the kindreds of the earth cannot be blessed unless he shall make bare his arm in the eyes of the nations.
11 Wherefore, the Lord God will proceed to make bare his arm in the eyes of all the nations, in bringing about his covenants and his gospel unto those who are of the house of Israel. (1 Nephi 22:10-11)
When it speaks of the Lord making bare His arm in the eyes of all the nations, it means that the Lord will make His power obvious.

Making bare an arm is a great image to describe how someone shows their power. We visualize a strong man rolling up their sleeves and flexing their muscles and maybe doing some heavy lifting to emphasize the strength they have.

When the Lord makes His arm bare, or shows His power, it will be done through the power of the Holy Ghost that will work upon the hearts of men when they hear the truth of the gospel. It will attract those of the house of Israel to the covenants of the Lord. When they enter covenants, they will also experience the power of the Lord through the priesthood and receive blessings promised to Abraham and his seed.

What “heavy lifting” does the Lord do that we can see? He changes people’s lives. The older we get, the more we understand how difficult change can be without God. People are stubborn. Habit is a deep rut to get out of. But God has the power to change lives, and He shows that to everyone, one by one. He shows people through the Spirit a hint of how they could be blessed, and then they get to choose to respond or not.

Also, everyone will see the power of God at the resurrection.