Thursday, March 15, 2018 0 comments

Religious Misunderstandings Ironed Out in Joshua 22

1 Then Joshua called the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh,
2 And said unto them, Ye have kept all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, and have obeyed my voice in all that I commanded you:
3 Ye have not left your brethren these many days unto this day, but have kept the charge of the commandment of the Lord your God.
4 And now the Lord your God hath given rest unto your brethren, as he promised them: therefore now return ye, and get you unto your tents, and unto the land of your possession, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you on the other side Jordan.
5 But take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the Lord charged you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.
6 So Joshua blessed them, and sent them away: and they went unto their tents.
7 Now to the one half of the tribe of Manasseh Moses had given possession in Bashan: but unto the other half thereof gave Joshua among their brethren on this side Jordan westward. And when Joshua sent them away also unto their tents, then he blessed them,
8 And he spake unto them, saying, Return with much riches unto your tents, and with very much cattle, with silver, and with gold, and with brass, and with iron, and with very much raiment: divide the spoil of your enemies with your brethren.
9 And the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh returned, and departed from the children of Israel out of Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan, to go unto the country of Gilead, to the land of their possession, whereof they were possessed, according to the word of the Lord by the hand of Moses.
10 And when they came unto the borders of Jordan, that are in the land of Canaan, the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by Jordan, a great altar to see to.
11 And the children of Israel heard say, Behold, the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh have built an altar over against the land of Canaan, in the borders of Jordan, at the passage of the children of Israel.
12 And when the children of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the children of Israel gathered themselves together at Shiloh, to go up to war against them.
13 And the children of Israel sent unto the children of Reuben, and to the children of Gad, and to the half tribe of Manasseh, into the land of Gilead, Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest,
14 And with him ten princes, of each chief house a prince throughout all the tribes of Israel; and each one was an head of the house of their fathers among the thousands of Israel.
15 And they came unto the children of Reuben, and to the children of Gad, and to the half tribe of Manasseh, unto the land of Gilead, and they spake with them, saying,
16 Thus saith the whole congregation of the Lord, What trespass is this that ye have committed against the God of Israel, to turn away this day from following the Lord, in that ye have builded you an altar, that ye might rebel this day against the Lord?
17 Is the iniquity of Peor too little for us, from which we are not cleansed until this day, although there was a plague in the congregation of the Lord,
18 But that ye must turn away this day from following the Lord? and it will be, seeing ye rebel to day against the Lord, that to morrow he will be wroth with the whole congregation of Israel.
19 Notwithstanding, if the land of your possession be unclean, then pass ye over unto the land of the possession of the Lord, wherein the Lord’s tabernacle dwelleth, and take possession among us: but rebel not against the Lord, nor rebel against us, in building you an altar beside the altar of the Lord our God.
20 Did not Achan the son of Zerah commit a trespass in the accursed thing, and wrath fell on all the congregation of Israel? and that man perished not alone in his iniquity.
21 Then the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh answered, and said unto the heads of the thousands of Israel,
22 The Lord God of gods, the Lord God of gods, he knoweth, and Israel he shall know; if it be in rebellion, or if in transgression against the Lord, (save us not this day,)
23 That we have built us an altar to turn from following the Lord, or if to offer thereon burnt offering or meat offering, or if to offer peace offerings thereon, let the Lord himself require it;
24 And if we have not rather done it for fear of this thing, saying, In time to come your children might speak unto our children, saying, What have ye to do with the Lord God of Israel?
25 For the Lord hath made Jordan a border between us and you, ye children of Reuben and children of Gad; ye have no part in the Lord: so shall your children make our children cease from fearing the Lord.
26 Therefore we said, Let us now prepare to build us an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice:
27 But that it may be a witness between us, and you, and our generations after us, that we might do the service of the Lord before him with our burnt offerings, and with our sacrifices, and with our peace offerings; that your children may not say to our children in time to come, Ye have no part in the Lord.
28 Therefore said we, that it shall be, when they should so say to us or to our generations in time to come, that we may say again, Behold the pattern of the altar of the Lord, which our fathers made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifices; but it is a witness between us and you.
29 God forbid that we should rebel against the Lord, and turn this day from following the Lord, to build an altar for burnt offerings, for meat offerings, or for sacrifices, beside the altar of the Lord our God that is before his tabernacle.
30 And when Phinehas the priest, and the princes of the congregation and heads of the thousands of Israel which were with him, heard the words that the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the children of Manasseh spake, it pleased them.
31 And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said unto the children of Reuben, and to the children of Gad, and to the children of Manasseh, This day we perceive that the Lord is among us, because ye have not committed this trespass against the Lord: now ye have delivered the children of Israel out of the hand of the Lord.
32 And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and the princes, returned from the children of Reuben, and from the children of Gad, out of the land of Gilead, unto the land of Canaan, to the children of Israel, and brought them word again.
33 And the thing pleased the children of Israel; and the children of Israel blessed God, and did not intend to go up against them in battle, to destroy the land wherein the children of Reuben and Gad dwelt.
34 And the children of Reuben and the children of Gad called the altar Ed: for it shall be a witness between us that the Lord is God. (Joshua 22)
This is an interesting story with details that are best understood with reference to earlier stories in the Old Testament.

The chapter starts as the children of Israel have finished conquering the land of Canaan (or as much as they could conquer). Joshua lets the Reubenites, Gadites, and half of Manasseh go to their possessions on the east side of the Jordan river. (They had actually been the first ones to obtain inheritance, but on condition that they would continue to fight alongside the rest of the tribes until everyone had obtained land of inheritance.)

V1-8 is Joshua’s dismissal of these tribes with a charge that they remember to keep the commandments and love the Lord.
-Take diligent heed to the commandment and the law
-love the Lord
-walk in His ways
-keep the commandments
-cleave to Him
-serve Him with all heart and soul

I have to wonder if Joshua was worried these tribes would forget God on the margins of the land.

V9-10  The 2 ½ tribes build an altar by Jordan, and it is said to be a very great altar, perhaps very large, visible all over.

V11  Rumor of the great altar is spread all around, and it causes consternation and worry and indignation. Why? Because in Leviticus 17:8-9 is a commandments that those who don’t bring their sacrifices to the Tabernacle’s altar are to be cut off (excommunicated). The tribes on the west side of Jordan jump to the conclusion that the 2 ½ tribes on the east side built this altar for sacrifice in opposition to the commandment. They worry this altar is a sign of idolatry starting in the eastern tribes.

V 12-14  The news of the big altar at Jordan in defiance of the commandments causes the western 9 ½ tribes to get ready for battle. To them, this altar, if built by one man, wouldn’t have been permitted by the man’s neighbors, if they were righteous. Therefore, it was built by the whole people on the east, therefore that whole group must be corrupted and require an army to invade and put things right.  To make sure the evil is stamped out, they send Phineas, the son of Eleazar the priest.

Here’s some quick background on Phineas.  Phineas is the same guy who speared two idolaters in their tent for committing ritual prostitution with the Moabites (see Numbers 25:1-15). Phineas was commended for his zeal in that act, and so he is sent to make sure that no idolater escapes punishment.

Also with Phineas are sent 10 princes of the western tribes to talk with the eastern tribes, according to the commandment in Deut. 13:12-15, to inquire diligently and see if the whole place is given to idolatry and find out if the rumors are true or not. (If the rumors are true, then the army gets called in to destroy the people.) It is a fact-finding expedition before the boom is lowered.

V16-20  The fact-finding expedition lays out the accusations—that the eastern tribes have rebelled against God by building an altar. They express the general worries that the eastern tribes will bring a plague on the rest of Israel just like Peor and Achan did in their idolatry and greed, which caused others to die too. (Achan was a fellow who took spoils from the conquest of Jericho and hid them in his tent in defiance of the command that the spoil was to be consecrated to the Lord. Because of his disobedience, Israel lost badly in their next military engagement, and he had to be detected by lot.(Joshua 7))

It is notable that they temper the accusations against the 2 ½ tribes with the supposition that maybe the eastern tribes have built the big altar in an effort to sanctify their land (maybe they thought their land was unclean), but princes say if the eastern tribes think that, they can come back and live on the west side of Jordan so they can be in a holy land too. This shows the western tribes were trying to think about what honest, good motives the eastern tribes might have had for building that big altar. This would go a long way toward softening the confrontation. People always want to be thought of as doing what’s right, and expressing some sense of trying to understand others as having good motives helps keep peace.

V22-29 The eastern tribes are very strong in denial of idolatry. They call upon God to punish them if their hearts are wrong and they ask to die that day if they are false to God. This is very serious stuff.

Instead, they say they have built the altar to try to prevent future problems. They worry that the western tribes’ descendants would someday exclude the eastern tribes’ descendants from worshipping the God of Israel at the Tabernacle and thereby turn the easterners from following the Lord. Their solution was to build a big altar in the exact pattern of the Tabernacle’s altar of sacrifice to show both sides that the eastern tribes worshipped the same God, that they knew what was done in the temple, they knew how it looked, and their knowledge was their license to participate. The altar was not for sacrifice, but to look at.

V30-34 Phineas and the 10 other princes are pleased with the explanation, and they go back to tell everyone else. Phineas’s declaration is notable too:

“This day we perceive that the Lord is among us, because ye have not committed this trespass against the Lord: now ye have delivered the children of Israel out of the hand of the Lord.” (v31)

In what way had the eastern tribes saved Israel from God?
1)    They had given a good explanation that saved everyone from a fratricidal war. Yay for peace!
2)    They had brought up an important issue—the dangers of disunity in the future that might arise from barriers of geography, in this case the river Jordan—and taken steps to avoid it, such that descendants of Israel would remember to not exclude some marginal groups, thinking they were unfaithful. Excluding the faithful with hasty judgments has eternal consequences and Israel didn’t want to make that mistake.

In what way did Phineas see that the Lord was among them?

He realized that the eastern tribes had acted to try to increase unity and faithfulness. Efforts to do that are inspired by God. Further, by trying to find out what was going on, the fact-finding group got to learn of those unification efforts, and thereby they learned how God was working among the margins to increase unity, as well as in the center.

Seeing it this way—as efforts to unify and prevent future error—is what pleased all the rest of Israel when they heard it. Efforts to unify in righteousness always please the faithful.

So what do we learn from this story?

--It is important to find out the facts before lowering the boom with punishment.
--For those who are tasked with confronting those who appear to have transgressed commandments, it is important to share how things look and also try to imagine how it might have been thought a good thing. Imputing good motives to people helps keep relationships constructive.
--Anticipating future problems and putting in place solutions to mitigate them is helpful.
--It would be wise to avoid thinking that members outside or far from major member population centers are any less faithful than those at the center.
--Willingness to explain one’s actions to others helps keep the peace. Sometimes we may think we don’t need to explain, but people want to understand and people be understood.
--Efforts to increase unity among the righteous are inspired by God.

I think this is a helpful story because today our church isn’t just a little area. It is a global church and we are spread out all over, speaking so many different languages. More than ever it is important to avoid making prideful assumptions that put down other members. The Lord wants us to be unified in faithfulness and righteousness in spite of the distances between congregations and language barriers, and His Spirit works to increase that unity. We strive for unity in doctrine, unity in worship, unity in faith, unity in good works.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018 2 comments

Illustration of the Need for Endurance

50 The army of Antipus being weary, because of their long march in so short a space of time, were about to fall into the hands of the Lamanites; and had I not returned with my two thousand they would have obtained their purpose.
51 For Antipus had fallen by the sword, and many of his leaders, because of their weariness, which was occasioned by the speed of their march—therefore the men of Antipus, being confused because of the fall of their leaders, began to give way before the Lamanites.
52 And it came to pass that the Lamanites took courage, and began to pursue them; and thus were the Lamanites pursuing them with great vigor when Helaman came upon their rear with his two thousand, and began to slay them exceedingly, insomuch that the whole army of the Lamanites halted and turned upon Helaman. (Alma 56:50-52)

When I read these verses, I notice the difference between the energy levels in the different armies. Antipus and his men are weary because of the long march in such a short time. The Lamanites are apparently still vigorous after the chase, and the stripling warriors have no comment made about weariness or vigor, so they seem to have had adequate energy.

I think we can draw a lesson from this about the importance of building physical endurance and give that lesson all kinds of spiritual applications as well. We need endurance in energy to deal with physical demands placed on us. We need endurance of patience and long-suffering to deal with setbacks and pain and opposition. We need endurance of faith to deal with extended uncertainty and times when the Lord’s promises don’t seem to be fulfilled when we think they should. We need endurance of moral courage to deal with temptation and opposition.

The tricky thing about endurance is you have to be practicing it all along in order to have it when it is most needed. That means diligence and even looking for opportunities to stretch ourselves when we don’t really need to. And of course there is always the option of praying for strength to endure.

Today let’s think about the kind of endurance we need in our lives and commit to practicing building our endurance so that when the crisis of need comes, we will be prepared. Or, if we’re in a situation when we need endurance, let’s pray for it and hang onto our faith.

Monday, March 5, 2018 2 comments

Conquer or Die

15 And these are the cities which they possessed when I arrived at the city of Judea; and I found Antipus and his men toiling with their might to fortify the city.
16 Yea, and they were depressed in body as well as in spirit, for they had fought valiantly by day and toiled by night to maintain their cities; and thus they had suffered great afflictions of every kind.
17 And now they were determined to conquer in this place or die; therefore you may well suppose that this little force which I brought with me, yea, those sons of mine, gave them great hopes and much joy. (Alma 56:15-17)

From this block of verses, it sounds like Antipus and his men were burning the candle at both ends, fighting by day and toiling by night. It is no wonder they were depressed and beat down; accumulated fatigue will do that.

But I love their attitude—“we will conquer or die.” That kept them going. And it was no idle threat. If they couldn’t conquer, they would be overcome by the Lamanites.

The spiritual analog is also true—if we can’t conquer Satan, we will die spiritually, so we must be just as determined as Antipus’s men.

Saturday, March 3, 2018 0 comments

Convinced of their Errors

In 3 Nephi 1 after the great sign was given of Christ’s birth, there is told of some who started to preach that they didn’t have to keep the Law of Moses anymore, and they tried to prove this with the scriptures.

24 And there were no contentions, save it were a few that began to preach, endeavoring to prove by the scriptures that it was no more expedient to observe the law of Moses. Now in this thing they did err, having not understood the scriptures.
25 But it came to pass that they soon became converted, and were convinced of the error which they were in, for it was made known unto them that the law was not yet fulfilled, and that it must be fulfilled in every whit; yea, the word came unto them that it must be fulfilled; yea, that one jot or tittle should not pass away till it should all be fulfilled; therefore in this same year were they brought to a knowledge of their error and did confess their faults. (3 Nephi 1:24-25)

I think it is very interesting how they are reclaimed from this error. It struck me recently that it isn’t very specific about who convinced them of their error and showed them the Law had to be completely fulfilled. Before, I just assumed one of the prophets told them. There’s place in Helaman 11:23 where there is much strife, but Nephi and Lehi laid down the true points of doctrine because of their many daily revelations and were able to end it. But here it doesn’t say who convinced the people who were in error.

So, it hit me that it must have been Heavenly Father who revealed to these people that the Law still needed to be fulfilled. And that’s pretty extraordinary because usually when there are dissenters, they go off on their own and nothing but a difficult preaching mission can reclaim the most humble and open of them.

What is different about these people that they could realize their error through revelation?

I don’t’ know; maybe it was that they were still receptive and humble enough that revelation would reach them.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could always be so humble that all our errors could be corrected solely through revelation? Let’s make it a goal to strive for that humility.

Thursday, March 1, 2018 0 comments

Warnings in the way the Nephites’ wickedness progressed

In these verses, Mormon chronicles the Nephites’ descent from great order to great lawlessness from the 27th year to the 30th year after the sign is given of Christ’s birth. It starts with pride, persecution, and inequality. Then we get this:

15 Now the cause of this iniquity of the people was this—Satan had great power, unto the stirring up of the people to do all manner of iniquity, and to the puffing them up with pride, tempting them to seek for power, and authority, and riches, and the vain things of the world.
16 And thus Satan did lead away the hearts of the people to do all manner of iniquity; therefore they had enjoyed peace but a few years.
17 And thus, in the commencement of the thirtieth year—the people having been delivered up for the space of a long time to be carried about by the temptations of the devil whithersoever he desired to carry them, and to do whatsoever iniquity he desired they should—and thus in the commencement of this, the thirtieth year, they were in a state of awful wickedness. (3 Nephi 6:15-17)

I notice there are three statements about what Satan does and how the people respond.

Satan stirred people up. It’s a very interesting image there of a pot of liquid that is stirred. It is as though people would be calm and content if left alone, but then Satan stirs them up to do iniquity, trying to convince them they are not happy as they are, that the need power, authority, riches, and vain things of the world.

Satan did lead away the hearts of the people. This idea of leading away hearts is another interesting image. It tells us that Satan managed to engage people’s affections and desires in the iniquity they were doing. That’s very troubling because emotions are very powerful. When one want to do iniquity and don’t want to do good, then doing good starts to feel very unpleasant, like one fights with oneself to do it, and it isn’t very enjoyable.

The people were delivered up…to be carried about by the temptations of the devil. This image of delivering people (like a package) and being carried about, almost like a baby, is pretty sickening. It makes it sound like the people have no choice in the matter, like something made them sin. But the reality is that they simply gave up the fight. They gave up fighting temptation and decided to do whatever they wanted, even though it broke the commandments. The reality was, it was actually what Satan wanted, so they essentially yielded their agency.

Now, sad as it is to read about this, I think it gives us some important warnings for our own lives. It tells us to be alert to notice when we are being stirred up or when our hearts are being led away toward evil or when it seems like we’re just being carried about without our choice. Half the battle is realizing we are in the predicament, discerning the devil’s machinations in our lives.

I’ve recently felt like I’m being stirred up with agitation, frustration, desperation, and anxiety. My head knows that I’m in a place where I’m being asked to grow in a number of different directions at once, that I have to exercise patience, that I have to buckle down and get to work. I’m in a place of stretching, but all the same, it is very difficult because of the strong emotions that are pulling me back and forth, this way and that. It makes it hard to concentrate.
The only way to make it through is to yield my heart to God, to resolve to do His will, no matter what my lying feelings shriek at me. I must trust that each day my righteous efforts will bring me closer to Him.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018 0 comments

Introduction of "To Defend Them By Stratagem"

I thought I'd post the introduction to my new book To Defend Them By Strategem so you could get a sense of how I approached the topic and whether you might find this book helpful or not.


I have always loved the war chapters in the Book of Mormon. Growing up, when my family read the Book of Mormon around the dinner table, I listened with breathless interest to the stories of Captain Moroni, Teancum, and Helaman’s stripling warriors. I reveled in Captain Moroni’s cleverness, Teancum’s intrepidity, and the stripling warriors’ sheer heroism and courage. Every Nephite victory was cause for celebration; every Lamanite victory brought disappointment. 

Multiple reads through the Book of Mormon embedded these stories of victory and defeat deep in my consciousness, and as I grew older I started to wonder why Mormon had decided to write in such detail about the wars when the purpose of the whole book was to testify of Christ’s divinity.

Eventually, I began to understand how the Lord meant for us to learn from those battles. Just as Captain Moroni thought it no sin to defend the Nephites by stratagem, the Lord thought it no sin to use war stories in the scriptures to teach His people strategies to help them recognize and defend against the ugly temptations and sins of world, especially during times when temptations would abound in both blatant and subtle ways.

In the Church, we have a lot to say about the sterling character of Captain Moroni and the stripling warriors, but as a people, we have not yet collectively discovered the wonderful array of battle strategies presented throughout the whole Book of Mormon. So why is this? 

The Church’s Sunday School curriculum calls for the Book of Mormon war chapters, Alma 43-62, to be treated in the space of two lessons. Only 90 minutes every four years is spent to study 19 chapters spanning 52 pages, giving us less than two minutes per page. There is not enough time to cover the material in the manuals, and the manuals only cover a fraction of what could be discussed. The Church focuses on teaching fundamental gospel principles while trusting and encouraging members to learn more through focused individual study. 

Still, because of the cursory attention of the church manuals, it is tempting to treat the war stories lightly. Some members see the derring-do only as thrilling entertainment, while other particularly peace-loving members are disgusted with all the violence and struggle to find any redeeming qualities in the chapters beyond the heroes of Captain Moroni, Teancum, Helaman, and the stripling warriors.

While I know that sooner or later members of the Church will individually be led to understand the treasures hidden in the stories of war, I also believe that I can do a service by speeding up the process. The battle strategies are of key importance; they are a big part of what made the Book of Mormon heroes the mighty men they were, and unless we can learn to recognize and master the strategies they used and defend effectively against attacks the way they did, we can never hope to reach their stature.

The events of the war chapters in Alma 43-62 are filtered through the eyes of not just one prophet-general, but two—Helaman and Mormon. In his record, Helaman featured events he found important in his day, and then centuries later, Mormon made his abridgement from Helaman’s record. The years between Helaman and Mormon probably gave Mormon valuable perspective, allowing him to better interpret for our edification the events Helaman recorded.

Many have observed that we are not in a war of physical violence; we are in a spiritual war for souls in which no holds are barred. Satan has had all of human history to learn the most effective ways to attack. We need to make a tactical science of spiritual survival in these last days, and there is no better way to do it than to learn from history by studying the war strategies in the Book of Mormon. Every tactic and strategy of field warfare has its spiritual equivalent, so we don’t have to be a member of the military to apply them in life. 

In this book, you will learn about tactics that Satan uses against us. You will learn about tactics you can use to defend yourself. You also will learn strategies that will allow you to go on the offensive. 

You may begin this book with the notion that Nephite tactics are always good and Lamanite tactics are always bad. This notion is comforting, but it effectively halves the usefulness of the war accounts. We can easily compare how the Nephites defend themselves to how we should defend ourselves against Satan, but we can also examine how the Lamanites’ failed defenses show us where our weak spots are. Also, we are used to comparing Lamanite attacks to Satan’s attacks, but we also can learn how the Nephites’ successful attacks to regain cities might be similar to ways Satan attacks us today.

Structure of the book

We will begin where war starts to appear in the Book of Mormon record—at the Words of Mormon as Mormon describes some of the struggles of King Benjamin. The chapters are in the order that the stories and incidents appear in the Book of Mormon, so if you are fairly familiar with the sequence of events as you read from front to back in the Book of Mormon, you will be able to follow fairly well. 

This book is broken up into chapters, each of which talk about important strategies we can learn from war in the Book of Mormon. Some of them start out by examining features of battles or incidents that seem a bit puzzling or that don’t seem to make sense. Most of the chapters are fairly short and can be read quickly. The very last chapter is a longer, detailed examination of how the war chapters reveal ways we can defend ourselves against the increasing threat of pornography.

Assumptions and Speculation

There are some times when I will make assumptions or speculate about how things were in Book of Mormon times. It is my attempt to “fill in the holes,” so to speak. You will recognize that I have made some speculative assumptions when I say something “may have” or “probably” happened a certain way. In each case, I will explain how I arrived at each conclusion. Caveats and provisos aside, ONWARD, Christian soldiers! (Author waves sword above head)

Amazon paperback ($12.99)
Monday, February 19, 2018 2 comments

Woes hanging over the Gadianton Robbers

In Helaman 22, the prophet Nephi came back to Zarahemla and found the Gadianton Robbers in political power, doing all kinds of injustice to the people, and when he tells them of their iniquities and warns them of the consequences, he says this:

And for this cause wo shall come unto you except ye shall repent. For if ye will not repent, behold, this great city, and also all those great cities which are round about, which are in the land of our possession, shall be taken away that ye shall have no place in them; for behold, the Lord will not grant unto you strength, as he has hitherto done, to withstand against your enemies. (Helaman 7:22)

From the Gadianton’s perspective, they had all the power. They held the judgment seats, the governor positions, control of the armies, etc. Furthermore, the Lamanites, who had previously been enemies of the Nephites, had converted to the Lord and laid down their weapons, and so were enemies no more. To the Gadiantons, Nephi’s prophecy would look crazy, because at that time there were no enemies with enough power to stop them, either in their cities, or among neighboring peoples.

But. What they didn’t know was that the enemies would come from among themselves. In a mere 15 years, they would be pushed out of the land, and in their resentment, they would form a marauding band that in the last crisis would eventually have to convert to the Lord or be killed by Nephite armies.

The story of how Nephi forces Gadianton judges to detect the murder of the chief judge as coming from one of their own also gives a picture of the injustice among the Gadiantons that would prevent them from ever having the peace they anticipated or flattered themselves they would gain. Because they were founded on robber, murder, corruption, and secrecy, and while they would protect each other from public justice and try to subvert it, that also meant they would have no real justice among themselves. They would do what they wanted to each other (who could stop them?) and the victims could have no recourse in public justice because everything they were guilty of would have to be revealed in the inquiry. And inside the combination, there would be no incentive for justice, only for a show of it. With no peaceful, orderly recourse available, the Gadiantons would have no choice but to fight each other, thus splitting into warring factions.

But they couldn’t see this.

There is also subtle irony in Helaman 8:4-6 that shows their inability to see things.
4 And those judges were angry with him because he spake plainly unto them concerning their secret works of darkness; nevertheless, they durst not lay their own hands upon him, for they feared the people lest they should cry out against them.
5 Therefore they did cry unto the people, saying: Why do you suffer this man to revile against us? For behold he doth condemn all this people, even unto destruction; yea, and also that these our great cities shall be taken from us, that we shall have no place in them.
6 And now we know that this is impossible, for behold, we are powerful, and our cities great, therefore our enemies can have no power over us.

How fascinating that they say they are so powerful and their cities so great, and yet…. They fear the people and fear angering the people if they take Nephi and condemn him. If they can’t handle the healthy corrective of Nephi’s words, and take appropriate action to change, how can they possibly handle a real crisis situation and the difficult truths that would stare them in the face then?

I think it shows the Lord’s great mercy that even when these people were steeped in such awfulness, the Lord still gave the robbers a chance to repent, sending a prophet to preach and sending signs and wonders to warn that they couldn’t hide their deeds and they were going to destroy themselves.
I also think this story shows that even if the wicked are in power, the Lord can shake things up and dislodge them.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018 0 comments

Pushing forward like Lamanites + MY NEW BOOK!

The Lamanites are busy little beavers in these verses:

33 And now it came to pass that it was expedient for Moroni to make preparations to attack the city Morianton; for behold, the Lamanites had, by their labors, fortified the city Morianton until it had become an exceeding stronghold.
34 And they were continually bringing new forces into that city, and also new supplies of provisions. (Alma 55:33-34)

At this point in the text we get an interruption of Helaman’s letter with the story about the stripling warriors, which causes us to lose the thread. But it is picked back up in Alma 59:

5 And it came to pass that while Moroni was thus making preparations to go against the Lamanites to battle, behold, the people of Nephihah, who were gathered together from the city of Moroni and the city of Lehi and the city of Morianton, were attacked by the Lamanites.
6 Yea, even those who had been compelled to flee from the land of Manti, and from the land round about, had come over and joined the Lamanites in this part of the land.
7 And thus being exceedingly numerous, yea, and receiving strength from day to day, by the command of Ammoron they came forth against the people of Nephihah, and they did begin to slay them with an exceedingly great slaughter.
8 And their armies were so numerous that the remainder of the people of Nephihah were obliged to flee before them; and they came even and joined the army of Moroni. (Alma 59:5-6)

Here we are told that while Moroni was making preparations, the city of Nephihah was attacked and overwhelmed, and the inhabitants (including refugees from cities Moroni, Lehi, and Morianton) were forced to flee.

What this tells us strategically is that there was a reason the Lamanites kept bringing more men and provisions into the city Morianton and fortifying it; they meant the city Morianton to become the next jumping off point for their next invasion into Nephite territory. There are reinforcements for maintenance and there are reinforcements for imminent invasion, and the Lamanites intended invasion. The Lamanites made Morianton a great stronghold so they could store more supplies there and strengthen their supply chain.

How does this help us today? Can we learn something positive from the Lamanites here, even though we’re used to thinking about them as the bad guys?  I think it helps us to think about where we are putting most of our energy and focus. The Lamanites put emphasis on amassing supplies and men at Morianton in anticipation for starting their invasion.  So, we could ask ourselves where we are putting our energy and preparation, and to what end? What do we expect to be able to do because of it? Are we simply maintaining things as they are, or are we preparing for progress? Are we preparing for new things, new goals, new growth?

The Lamanites knew how to grow their territory—they received strength from day to day, and then they PUSHED into new territories. What would happen if we followed that example spiritually in good ways? Can we receive strength from God from day to day? Yes. Can we prepare for new things? Yes. Can we push into new spiritual territories? I think so, if we are sufficiently prepared.

Today, let's press forward with faith in Christ.

Postscript NEWSFLASH 

I got my rear in gear recently, and pushed forward to finally publish my book To Defend Them By Strategem: Fortify Yourself with Book of Mormon War Tactics. (The audience goes wild, slings roses in all directions, and moshes enthusiastically with the orchestra while the world rejoices!)  This book contains many ideas about how the stories of war in the Book of Mormon teach us how we can defend ourselves against Satan. 

I’m very excited to have this book finally out, after all the work I’ve done on it. It contains some of my best thoughts and insights from this blog, which have been polished and reworked to focus specifically on spiritual strategies that can protect us. I think that you’ll really enjoy it and learn a lot.

This book will not be in Deseret Book…unless you decide to ask for it specifically by ISBN # (978-0-9968730-0-0, if you’re interested).  So, if you want to see it there, request it. ;-) 
Alternatively, you can get it Amazon, as it is available in both paperback and as a Kindle book.

See here:

Amazon paperback ($12.99)

Monday, February 12, 2018 0 comments

That I may carry thy people

And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Thou shalt construct a ship, after the manner which I shall show thee, that I may carry thy people across these waters. (1 Nephi 17:8)

That bit at the end – that I may carry thy people” – struck me. It is as though God uses the idea of a boat to symbolize Himself and how He will carry and protect Nephi’s family from the elements.

Looked at it that way, anything that carries us can be a symbol of God—our transportation: cars, buses, airplanes, boats, etc. And anything that protects can symbolize God as well—our clothes, our houses, fortifications, armor, etc.

Saturday, February 10, 2018 0 comments

Called the People of Ammon

This bit from the story of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis jumped out at me:

…And they went down into the land of Jershon, and took possession of the land of Jershon; and they were called by the Nephites the people of Ammon; therefore they were distinguished by that name ever after. (Alma 27:26)

It first strikes me as an incredible compliment to Ammon that the Nephites called the Anti-Nephi-Lehis “the people of Ammon.” It gives a sense that Ammon was amazing. Wouldn’t it be incredible if you or I were instrumental in converting so many people that they were called “the people of [your name]”?

But then, Ammon wasn’t the one who did all those conversions. First of all, it was the Spirit, and Ammon was only one of the instruments. Also, Aaron and his other brothers had a big part to play as well. They were all involved. So, it wasn’t necessarily fair to the others to have Ammon shoulder all the credit that way. (Ammon was probably personally embarrassed by it as well.)

And another thing—it was the Nephites who used this name for them, not the Anti-Nephi-Lehis. The Anti-Nephi-Lehis already had their own name for themselves to distinguish them from the Lamanites. We don’t really know how they felt about this name the Nephites put on them. They may have had mixed feelings about it—glad to be identified with Ammon, who was so exemplary, but perhaps wishing for more accuracy.

We perhaps could understand how they feel when we consider how we could be called Latter-day Saints because of the full name of our church, but others have called us “Mormons,” and we’ve had to own and accept that name, even though we consider ourselves Christians.

I really like the next verse that characterizes the Anti-Nephi-Lehis:

And they were among the people of Nephi, and also numbered among the people who were of the church of God. And they were also distinguished for their zeal towards God, and also towards men; for they were perfectly honest and upright in all things; and they were firm in the faith of Christ, even unto the end. (Alma 27:27)

“Distinguished for their zeal.” What do you think that looked like in daily life? Excitement and enthusiasm for doing their duty? Love and interest in prayer and study of the word of God? Interest in serving others? Did this arise out of the joy of their conversion, or is this also something we can choose to become? I think one has to choose it, because while it understandable that conversion from an awful state would lead to great gratitude, there are people who have always been faithful who continue to maintain their zeal.

It might seem superfluous to add that the Anti-Nephi-Lehis were “perfectly…upright,” but think what it would mean if someone was distinguished for their zeal toward God but was not perfectly upright in all things. There would be an element of hypocrisy there. Zeal means nothing without uprightness.

So, if someone is zealous toward God and perfectly upright, does that mean they are perfect? I don’t know? I imagine they would be close to perfection, and it would only be those little errors and occasional mistakes that would create a problem. But it also says the Anti-Nephi-Lehis were “perfectly honest,” so they would be willing to admit their faults, and then because of their faith in Christ, they would be quick to repent. How can you go wrong if you repent every time you notice (or have it brought to your notice) that you have erred or transgressed?

Today let’s work on being zealous for God, not expecting happiness from something indefinite or mysterious out there, but putting all our efforts on doing the Lord’s will. Let’s find our joy in that and strive to be upright in all things.