Friday, February 20, 2015 0 comments

Isaiah on the consequences of persecuting others


¶Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever:
That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the Lord:
10 Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits:
11 Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.
12 Wherefore thus saith the Holy One of Israel, Because ye despise this word, and trust in oppression and perverseness, and stay thereon:
13 Therefore this iniquity shall be to you as a breach ready to fall, swelling out in a high wall, whose breaking cometh suddenly at an instant.
14 And he shall break it as the breaking of the potters’ vessel that is broken in pieces; he shall not spare: so that there shall not be found in the bursting of it a sherd to take fire from the hearth, or to take water withal out of the pit.
15 For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not.
16 But ye said, No; for we will flee upon horses; therefore shall ye flee: and, We will ride upon the swift; therefore shall they that pursue you be swift.
17 One thousand shall flee at the rebuke of one; at the rebuke of five shall ye flee: till ye be left as a beacon upon the top of a mountain, and as an ensign on an hill. (Isaiah 30:8:17)

Isaiah points out the problem first—the Israelites didn’t want to hear the truth, so they were persecuting the prophets.  Then he tells them the consequences of this rebellious behavior and he uses two different images to do it. 

The first image is of a high mud brick wall with a break in it, though Isaiah calls the break “a breach.”  We are to imagine a break in this wall that causes it to lean precariously over the ground (and whoever is standing below) and which will eventually topple and fall suddenly without warning.

The second image is of a clay pot being broken with such great violence that there is not a single shard of it left to do anything useful with, not even to move hot coals for the fire or scoop water with.

Why are these images used?  How do they teach us about the consequences of persecuting the prophets who tell the truth about sin?

Persecution is a relationally aggressive way of trying to persuade others to do what one wants.  It tends to escalate and become a pattern of behavior when it is perceived to be successful.  But it is not something that can be depended upon to secure peace because other parties opposed learn to do it too, and the kinds of things that people think call for persecution can shift with incredible speed.  The persecuting group can easily become the next to be persecuted by another group of unrighteous people who have just as strong feelings and no compunction in attacking viciously.  So in that way, to depend upon persecution as a tactic (or “trusting in oppression and perverseness,” as Isaiah calls it) is as precarious as standing under a wall with a break at the top, which will break suddenly with no warning.  At any moment the same thing could fall on the persecutor and smash them to smithereens, leaving them broken psychologically.

For those of us who are persecuted, Isaiah tells us a key for enduring: “In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength.”  Returning is Isaiah’s term for repentance.  If there is anything we are doing wrong, repentance will fix it and then any legitimate fault we might be persecuted for will disappear.  The most important thing is that we find spiritual salvation, even if the persecution doesn’t stop.  (Not that we wouldn’t be happy if it did!)  Furthermore, “quietness and confidence” refers to how we are to express ourselves, rather than with shrillness, outrage, and spreading fear, uncertainty, and doubt.  We can observe how the prophet and apostles speak of the issues, with calm discipline and careful reasoning.

If we can’t do that, then we will run away from the problems and issues and we’ll get chased here and there by even a hint of trouble.  A thousand of us will run at the rebuke of one incident of persecution until we can find the strength from the atonement to repent and take a stand and become a beacon on a mountain and an ensign on a hill.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015 0 comments

Temple symbolism lesson from S. Michael Wilcox


I read a little story in S. Michael Wilcox’s book House of Glory that taught a principle about the mirrors in the temple that I hadn’t come across before, so I thought I would share it.

I once learned a great lesson on marriage while witnessing a sealing of a relative.  After the ceremony, I stood with my wife looking into the mirrors that reflect a strait and narrow path into eternity.  As usual, I was moving this way and that way, trying to see a little farther, but my own reflection was in the way, and I could not see as far as I wanted.  I remember consciously thinking: “I wish I could take myself out of the mirrors.  I could see eternity better, but I keep getting in the way.”

As I pondered this, the Spirit bore a strong witness to its truth.  Concentrating too much on ourselves obscures our view of eternal things. I thought of all the couples I had counseled while serving as bishop and realized that in every case of marital conflict, one or both partners had focused so much on themselves that they could no longer see eternity.  I wanted to bring each couple in my ward to the sealing room, stand them in front of the mirrors, and say: “Can you see what we sometimes do?  Can you understand the problem and also perceive the solution? The mirrors teach us a powerful truth that can strengthen, enhance, or save our marriages.” (p25-26)

I like this story because I have stood there doing exactly the same thing as Brother Wilcox—trying to see further into the mirrors and annoyed that my own image stands in the way.  I’m glad that he shared this  lesson for the rest of us to learn from.
Monday, February 16, 2015 0 comments

The sign of the jubilee years in Isaiah 37


In Isaiah 36, kingdom of Judah was confronted with an invasion by the Assyrians, who did their best to demoralize them with statements about how there was no way their God could save them, since no other gods saved the other nations the Assyrians destroyed.

In Isaiah 37, when King Hezekiah of Judah heard it, he took the national troubles to the Lord and prayed that the Lord would save Judah so that the Assyrians would know Judah’s God really was God.

Then, Isaiah came to tell King Hezekiah that the Lord would answer his prayer and he was to send a message back to the Assyrians with the following sense:  1) You’ve blasphemed against God, and we scorn you, 2) Our God got you where you are today, so of course the other nations were not strong enough to stand up to you, 3) God knows where you live and everything about you. (Implication: You’re in for it now!)

Then without warning, Isaiah shifts into a message for King Hezekiah, and this caught my attention:

And this shall be a sign unto thee, Ye shall eat this year such as groweth of itself; and the second year that which springeth of the same: and in the third year sow ye, and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat the fruit thereof. (Isaiah 37:30)

What is this?

It is nothing less than a promise from the Lord that He will feed the people of Judah for 2 years with whatever crops grow all by themselves with no cultivation.  It is essentially a proclamation of a Sabbath year and a Jubilee year, one right after the other. 

If you remember, the Sabbath year was every seventh year when the land was to rest, and the Jubilee year was the 50th year, or after 7 Sabbath years had happened, and it was meant to be a time of deliverance from debt.  So to have these two years was a message of rest and deliverance to the whole nation in a way that would could be appreciated for days and weeks and months…  It was a also a tender mercy; after all, one can’t be planting and cultivating when one’s land is under siege from invaders.   But it would also require their faith for them to experience the rest.  They had to believe that it would be all right.

What a great blessing!  The Lord through the prophet didn’t just speak assurance to the king, He also gave assurance to the common man who would be very worried about how their livelihood was being disrupted by the invasion of the Assyrians.  In an environment of tension and worries about captivity, death, and famine, God gave a promise of sustained rest and deliverance and providence.

I think the lesson from this is that if we turn to the Lord in our troubles, He will have mercy on us and help us in miraculous ways.  Sometimes through tender mercies, sometimes through great miracles, always in ways that we need.  No trouble is to great or too small.  No station is too high or too low to be blessed, whether king or commoner.
Saturday, February 14, 2015 2 comments

Some scriptures for Valentine’s Day


As we celebrate Valentine's Day, I thought it would be nice to gather some scriptures about what the prophets have written about love over the centuries. These things help give perspective.

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. (John 13:34)

I know thy heart, and have heard thy prayers concerning thy brethren. Be not partial towards them in love above many others, but let thy love be for them as for thyself; and let thy love abound unto all men, and unto all who love my name. (D&C 112:11)

2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.
3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. (1 John 5:2-3)

Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:10)

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15)

For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. (Luke 6:32)

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)


Happy Valentine's Day!
Thursday, February 12, 2015 2 comments

New lessons from Isaiah’s words about a book that is sealed


I was reading along in Isaiah and I hit those verses in Isaiah 29 that in our church are commonly spoken of as referring to the behavior of Charles Anthon concerning the gold plates—“I cannot [read them]; for it is sealed” and I wondered if there might be more meaning to be gotten from this section if we think of it also as though Isaiah were speaking of the people in his day.

10 For the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered.
11 And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed:
12 And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned.
13 ¶Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:
14 Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid. (Isaiah 29:10-14)

If we shift our perspective to see what Isaiah was saying to his own people, we can see that Isaiah came down hard on those who had become so blind and deaf to the truth that when they read the scriptures—that which Isaiah calls “the vision of all” the prophets—they had no idea what any of it meant.  It was a sealed book to them.

Furthermore, this sad state was everywhere in his society.  If Isaiah took the scriptures to someone who was learned and asked them to read it and tell him what it meant, the learned said, “I don’t know” because it was beyond his comprehension… or perhaps the learned didn’t want to believe the things in it that condemned his favorite sins, so he would tie himself in interpretive knots and eventually have to give up and confess he didn’t know.

On the other hand, if Isaiah took the scriptures to the unlearned, and asked him to interpret them, the unlearned made excuses that he didn’t have the training and thereby justified himself in not reading it at all.

So from top to bottom, no one in Isaiah’s day knew the scriptures.  And yet, they claimed to draw close to God.  What can you say about a society that claims they are close to God but who don’t understand or read the scriptures?  They are actually far from God and are learning and believing the precepts of men instead.

And God can’t have this.  He can’t let it go on forever, so He cleans things up with chastisements and punishments and so forth.  If the people could understand how God really works, they would know what He was doing and be comforted, but because their views are so twisted, it is going to look to them like something horrible is happening.  It will look like God has forsaken His people completely.  That’s quite a marvelous work and wonder, for God to work and yet for His people to think He’s completely missing from the world’s arena.  It’s a mystery what God is doing; no one sees it or understands.  The wise man’s wisdom can’t account for it, and the prudent men are found to be anything but.

While the prophecy about Charles Anthon happened once, this other view continues to be useful to us today because it warns us how important it is to understand the scriptures and live by their righteous principles.  We must not let the words of the prophets become like a sealed book to us.

Elsewhere in the same chapter, there are words of hope for those who study the scriptures and try to live by them:

18 ¶And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness….
24 They also that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine.  (Isaiah 29:18-24)


Tuesday, February 10, 2015 0 comments

High Nibley on the comfort of purity in difficult circumstances


I read the book Sergeant Nibley Phd: Memories of an Unlikely Screaming Eagle yesterday.   I very much enjoyed it and recommend it.   It was about Hugh Nibley’s experience in World War II as part of army intelligence.  He was part of the force that invaded Normandy on D-day.

One particular experience of his I found particularly inspiring, so I want to share it with you.

One day I was asleep, all covered up in my foxhole, and Dave came running up and said, “Get up!  Grab a carbine and come quick!  The Germans are in Carentan, and they’re going to attack!”

And I heaved an enormous sigh of relief and I said, “Thank heaven!  It was only a dream!”  Because before he woke me I had been dreaming that I had committed a rather serious crime—I think I committed murder—and I was terrified by the dream.  When I woke in the foxhole with the guns firing and the noise and shouting all around and the dense smoke of rifle fire, I was so happy I could sing because I hadn’t committed that crime.  When I found it wasn’t true, it was as if I’d found myself in my bed in a palace.  “How happy I am!  Everything is all right!  The world is lovely and right because I have not sinned!” (p127-128)

I love this story because it shows what a wonderful thing it can be to have a clear conscience.  I suppose the Lord gave Hugh Nibley that dream specifically so that the comfort of finding it wasn't real would buoy him up in difficulty.

Elsewhere in the book, Nibley reflects on that further on that experience:

I remember the dream I had in the foxhole outside Carentan.  The one where Dave Bernay woke me up and I felt so happy because it was just a dream and I hadn’t actually committed the terrible crime I had dreamed about.  There I was in the middle of a battle, and I was completely happy.  It was a very strong thing; it came to me very strongly: I shouldn’t be happy in this circumstance!  But it’s not what happens to you that matters.  It’s not what becomes of you, it’s what you become that’s important.  And the tragedy today in America is not what becomes of us, but what we become.  As Brother Brigham used to say, if you don’t deserve hell and you’re sent to hell it doesn’t bother you.  You just say, I’m in the wrong place; there has been a mistake. It’ll be corrected, I don’t belong here.  But if you belong there, that’s the sad thing. Then it’s what you are.  There is the tragedy. (p125-126)




Sunday, February 8, 2015 0 comments

Abner switches sides to David’s camp and some thoughts on loyalty


6 ¶And it came to pass, while there was war between the house of Saul and the house of David, that Abner made himself strong for the house of Saul.
7 And Saul had a concubine, whose name was Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah: and Ish-bosheth said to Abner, Wherefore hast thou gone in unto my father’s concubine?
8 Then was Abner very wroth for the words of Ish-bosheth, and said, Am I a dog’s head, which against Judah do shew kindness this day unto the house of Saul thy father, to his brethren, and to his friends, and have not delivered thee into the hand of David, that thou chargest me to day with a fault concerning this woman?
9 So do God to Abner, and more also, except, as the Lord hath sworn to David, even so I do to him;
10 To translate the kingdom from the house of Saul, and to set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan even to Beer-sheba.
11 And he could not answer Abner a word again, because he feared him.
12 ¶And Abner sent messengers to David on his behalf, saying, Whose is the land? saying also, Make thy league with me, and, behold, my hand shall be with thee, to bring about all Israel unto thee.  (2 Samuel 3: 6-12)

This block of verses describes the cause of Abner’s defection from Ishbosheth (Saul’s son) to David.  (If you remember Abner was another of Saul’s relatives and was in charge of the army during Saul’s reign.)

While there was war between the house of Saul and David, Abner made himself strong for the house of Saul.  I think this is an indication that there was some self-aggrandizement going on.  The final straw for Ishbosheth was that Abner took Saul’s concubine Rizpah and had sex with her, which was a traditional way for a usurper to declare they had taken a king’s place—by taking their wives.  Ishbosheth confronted Abner about it, and Abner hit the ceiling.

Abner then accused Ishbosheth of ingratitude because Ishbosheth had charged him with fault about Rizpah, after all Abner had done for him in maintaining his throne and fighting his enemies.  Abner was so angry, he said he was going to switch sides and support David instead and use all his influence to set David up as king.

Now, one interesting thing about this block of verses is that you never really know if Abner actually did take Rizpah, or not.  We just know that Ishbosheth accused him of it.  The jury is still out and all we have is Abner’s side of the story because no doubt he told it to David to explain why he switched sides, and no doubt he would tell it in such a way as to make Abner look good and Ishbosheth look bad.

Another thing is that Abner gets mad just because he’s been accused of a fault, and he immediately makes a counter-accusation of ingratitude. Now, I don’t know about you, but this seems to indicate that Abner has some kind of entitlement problem.  It is the attitude of “I’ve done all this for you, so that precludes you from every opposing me or denying me what I want, even if it is out of line or criminal.”  I have sometimes seen this in a few military people online, who, when they (or the military) are accused of fault, pull the I-defended-your-freedom-how-dare-you-treat-me-this-way card.   It is as if these individuals believe one good work should excuse other sins.  With a true idea of justice, we know that’s not the case.  Moreover, accusation, as painful as it is, does not a conviction make.  (I’m really glad this is a small minority of military, by the way.)

Back to Abner. 

What is more worrisome is that Abner’s anger and entitlement over this accusation causes him to change sides, and that gives us a clue that entitlement leads to disloyalty, even while it wraps itself in patriotism and raves about ingratitude. (We get a number of examples of this in the Book of Mormon from the stories of Amalickiah and king men and Zoramites, and other dissenters.)

If Abner changes to David’s side just because he is accused of fault (and it is a pretty big fault), how long will it be before he commits a fault with David and is accused of something?  (Assuming he did what he was accused of..)  Can he be counted on to stay true?   It’s a legitimate question.

When I apply this story to myself, I can remember a particular time a number of years ago when I tried to aggrandize myself, and it brought me to overstep my bounds, which naturally brought chastisement down on me.  Then I got offended just because I was charged with fault, and it made me want to take revenge in some way.  Thankfully, humbling myself helped me recognize my sin and I repented and stayed true to the church and to God.

May we serve faithfully and not be too big to be corrected is my prayer for myself and all of us.

Friday, February 6, 2015 2 comments

The Star of Bethlehem: Prophesied of?


In Sunday school a few weeks ago we talked about the story of the wise men seeing the star and coming to Israel from the east.  I love this verse containing their question of Herod:

Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. (Matt 2:2)

This is fascinating because it implies these wise men 1) have been watching the skies and know the stars well, 2) they know when an unusual star appears, 3) they know what the new star means, 4) they know generally where to go to find this king of the Jews and they seem to think everyone in Israel (most especially the current king) should know all about it and be able to give directions.

In Sunday school, someone mentioned that this prophecy of the star isn’t in our scriptures.  This intrigued me, so I went looking. 

And actually…

It is there, in a place totally unexpected.  Would you believe the prophet Balaam?

15 ¶And he took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor hath said, and the man whose eyes are open hath said:
16 He hath said, which heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the most High, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open:
17 I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth. (Numbers 24: 15-17)

It is interesting that this prophecy doesn’t seem to speak literally; rather it uses parallelism to communicate that the Messiah would be a great light and ruler, and it combines in second coming prophecy of the destruction of the wicked.  But it was also literally fulfilled, as a star did arise.

Also, you can see why Herod would be worried.  If the wise men quoted the prophecy to him with its context, he would be concerned about the bits telling about smiting and destroying and ruling because not only would he feel in the way, but he’d worry about the plunging of his kingdom into war with its neighbors, which is also implied.

Now, we don’t know if this was the only scriptural reference to the star that the wise men had.  They may have had other scriptures we know nothing about.  They may have had angelic visitors telling them to watch for that sign, much as the shepherds had an angelic visitor telling them to look for a baby in swaddling clothes in a manger, or as Samuel the Lamanite had an angel tell him to look for the day and the night and a day with no night and a new star.

However, if all they had was that one reference in Numbers, then part of what made them so wise was their belief in what this prophet said, to the extent that they watched and studied the skies.  Part of their wisdom (which looks a lot like the spirit of prophecy) lay in being able to truly discern a literal prophecy in what looks very much like symbolic figurative language.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015 0 comments

15 poems to vote on

So, lds.net had a poetry contest and I am one of the 15 finalists. (W00t!) You can vote for multiple poems you like, so take a look here! All the poems are pretty neat in their own way, with a variety of poetic and literary devices used. If you think my poem "Holy Spirit" merits a vote, please do, but don't feel like you have to vote for my poem just because you know me or read my blog.

I mention this on here because devotional poetry done well has something of the divine in it, an elevated view full of awe and reverence that shares much with scripture.

Enjoy!

KJV versus JST: Not everyone that saith to me Lord, Lord


I want to take a look at the JST for Matthew 7: 21-23.

KJV  Matt 7:21-23
JST
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21 ¶Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
21 ¶Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.  For the day soon cometh, that men shall come before me to judgment, to be judged according to their works.
The JST adds a whole sentence on the end of the verse to make clear that this anticipated situation takes place at the day of judgment and that these people aren’t pushed away by Christ until post mortality.  They are given every chance in life to repent and have refused.  Without this clarification, we might think that a person coming to Christ in this life would not be able to count on being received.
22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
And then will I say, Ye never knew me: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Here the JST clarifies that it is not that Christ doesn’t know those who work iniquity.  He is familiar with their lives, having done His best to try to reclaim them.  He is perfectly acquainted with their sins and weaknesses and pains and struggles, having suffered for them.  But for all that, these people have refused or neglected to repent in the manner commanded, and so have never known Christ or His goodness, for all they have professed to know.  (see my other blog post that goes deeper into this)

 I think the main principles the JST clarifies here is how we all have our chances to repent and come to Christ, but at judgment day, the chances are over.  Also, if we are condemned at that day, it will be because we have refused to repent and know Christ.  Every one of us, until we repent, is one “who works iniquity.”  No pointing fingers to say, “yes, those people over there better repent” because we have sinned too.