Friday, August 14, 2009

Nephi Elaborates on Isaiah’s Words about the Precepts of Men

25 Forasmuch as this people draw near unto me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their hearts far from me, and their fear towards me is taught by the precepts of men—
26 Therefore, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, yea, a marvelous work and a wonder, for the wisdom of their wise and learned shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent shall be hid. (2 Nephi 27:25)
..Yes, we know that the Lord will do a marvelous work and a wonder that causes the wisdom of the learned to perish. But what does this have to do with the precepts of men? What are the precepts of men?

In trying to get my mind around what “precepts” meant, I decided to look in the Topical Guide to see how the scriptures generally used the word. It turned out that it meant commandments and laws. My dictionary widget says it means “a general rule intended to regulate behavior or thought”.

Being newly alert to this meaning, I happened to look into the next chapter and right away I noticed the word “precept” was used a lot. (The next chapter contains the well-known “eat-drink-and-be-merry” false doctrine that Nephi skewers with such aplomb.) And that’s when I realized that Nephi was probing into what these false precepts were and dragging them out into the light of day. (And likely he had seen them in his vision of the future as well.)

9 false precepts of men Nephi warns against:
  • There is no God today because the Redeemer has done his work and given his power to men. (2 Nephi 28:5)
  • Teach with learning; the Holy Ghost doesn’t give utterance. (2 Nephi 28:4)
  • Deny the power of God (2 Nephi 28:4)
  • Don’t believe stories of miracles because God is not a God of miracles today and he’s already done his work. (2 Nephi 28:6)
  • We have the word of God and we don’t need anything more. We have enough. (2 Nephi 28:29)
  • All is well in Zion; Zion prospers. (2 Nephi 28:21)
  • Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. (2 Nephi 28:7)
  • Eat, drink, and be merry, but fear God. He will justify committing a little sin. If we are guilty, God will punish us a little bit and at last we’ll be saved. (2 Nephi 28:8)
  • There’s no devil and no hell. (2 Nephi 28:22)
So what happens when denominations don’t believe in the power of God and the Holy Ghost to teach and convince, don’t believe in miracles, don’t believe there will be any more scripture or revelation, think God has already done His work, think everything is just fine, believe its okay to sin, and think there is no devil and no hell? From looking at the list that Nephi cited, it is easy for me to see that they gradually cut themselves off from good, and gradually embrace more and more evil, all while thinking they are doing okay. There’s no direction they can really go but down.
…there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines, and shall be puffed up in their hearts, and shall seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord; and their works shall be in the dark. (2 Nephi 28:9)
Do we see false precepts today? You bet we do. I recently read a blog entry of a commentator on the economy who maintains the dubious idea that deliberately walking away from one’s upside down mortgage is not a moral issue, thereby implying that a person is justified in not paying the debt they incurred. WHAT!!? What happened to telling people to pay their debts and avoid excessive debt? Another case: we have all heard those who argue that having premarital sex is okay as long as protection is used. WHAT?! What happened to the commandment to be chaste? In ASU’s Career Prep Center on the Polytechnic campus I saw a poster that advocated making sure there is a designated driver when going drinking. WHAT?! Why not say, “Don’t drink”? How about the idea that you have to live together in order to know whether someone would be a compatible spouse? Why don’t they tell people to be more observant when with their dates and talk things over?

So, we see that when the precepts of men are taught, gradually society becomes completely corrupted, thinking that good is evil and evil is good. This means that God has to set things straight again. And you can now see how the restored gospel, when it comes among such corruption meets with a violent reception. “…at that day shall [Satan] rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good.” (2 Nephi 28:20)

At best, a corrupt society totally dismisses the commandments of God. “Wo unto them that turn aside the just for a thing of naught and revile against that which is good, and say that it is of no worth!” (2 Nephi 28:16)
11 Yea, they have all gone out of the away; they have become corrupted.
12 Because of pride, and because of false teachers, and false doctrine, their churches have become corrupted… (2 Nephi 28:11-12)
When people take their corrupt ideas and precepts to church, they try to remake the church in the image of those ideas, and that’s how churches become corrupted.

So what happens to a corrupted society? Isaiah has the answer (as quoted by Nephi).
27 And wo unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord! And their works are in the dark; and they say: Who seeth us, and who knoweth us?
And they also say: Surely, your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter’s clay.
But behold, I will show unto them, saith the Lord of Hosts, that I know all their works. For shall the work say of him that made it, he made me not? Or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, he had no understanding?
28 But behold, saith the Lord of Hosts: I will show unto the children of men that it is yet a very little while and Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field; and the fruitful field shall be esteemed as a forest. (2 Nephi 27:27-28)
This scripture used to puzzle me, but I’ve started getting some ideas about what it means and why it is said when it is (after the marvelous work and the wonder is declared). Here we see two faults of the corrupt society—they secretly do evil thinking that no one will know it was them, and they also think a certain work (the marvelous work and the wonder) is turning things upside down, but they think it won’t last and things will easily revert to what they were before as easily as soft clay in the hands of the potter can be mashed from the form of a new jar into a lump again. (But this is only because they had turned things upside down and the marvelous work actually puts it all right side up again.) As an example of this, many people thought that killing Joseph Smith would kill Mormonism too and it would all fade away, but they were wrong.

The Lord knows these faults and gives two perfectly matched decrees to address them.

For those who secretly do evil, the Lord will show them that He knows their works. Nephi prophesies this:
16 Wherefore, the things of all nations shall be made known; yea, all things shall be made known unto the children of men.
17 There is nothing which is secret save it shall be revealed; there is no work of darkness save it shall be made manifest in the light; and there is nothing which is sealed upon the earth save it shall be loosed. 2 Nephi 20:16-17)
I think the internet is a manmade way that this prophecy gets fulfilled, but I think also that the Spirit can inform of secret things that couldn’t be known otherwise. An example of this is in the Book of Mormon when the prophet Nephi (in Helaman) learns through the spirit of prophecy about the murder of the chief judge. Not only does he learn it happened, he learns who did it, he learns why, he learns the relationship of the murderer to the murdered, and he learns that they were both affiliated with Gadianton robbers.

All of this is meant to teach that the Lord knows about those secret and evil works and that He doesn’t approve.

For the people who think the marvelous work and wonder is turning everything upside down, the Lord makes an interesting analogy. He says that in just a short period of time,
Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field;
and the fruitful field shall be esteemed as a forest.
Lebanon was a place of great forests in Isaiah’s day, so Isaiah was using Lebanon to represent the idea of forest.

The forest shall become a fruitful field
And the fruitful field shall be considered a forest.

This used to confuse me; I thought it was talking about a forest turning into a fruitful field then back into a forest again. A while ago I realized that wasn’t it at all. Isaiah is saying that things will switch places. What was a forest, becomes a fruitful field. What previously was a fruitful field becomes less and less fruitful until it has gone wild like a forest.

Further, as I was writing about this, I realized something else; the forest was supposed to represent a natural environment (or the natural man), and the fruitful field was to represent a domesticated environment (or the spiritual man who yields the fruit good works). These are meant to symbolize peoples. In this way, Isaiah tells us that through the Lord’s marvelous work, the people who were previously considered unfruitful, or those people often referred to as “the unchurched”, would become converted, become saints, and begin to bear fruit (good works). On the other hand, those who were previously considered the most fruitful or religiously devout would soon be considered unfruitful in comparison to those who were now truly converted. In essence, the unchurched would learn the true gospel of Christ, become converted, and would overtake and far surpass in spirituality and good works those who had previously been considered religious (but who were really corrupt).

Isaiah continues this thought using other images to convey the idea of turning things upside down (or right side up).
29 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.
30 And the meek also shall increase, and their joy shall be in the Lord, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
31 For assuredly as the Lord liveth they shall see that the terrible one is brought to naught, and the scorner is consumed, and all that watch for iniquity are cut off;
32 And they that make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate, and turn aside the just for a thing of naught….
35 They also that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine. (2 Nephi 27:29-35)
Did you catch those changes?
Deaf …. hear
Blind …. see, no longer in the dark
Meek …. increase (in Christ)
Poor …. rejoice (in Christ)
Terrible one …. brought to nothing
Scorner …. consumed
Those that watch for iniquity/those that are offended by a technicality/trap setters/those who deny people their rights on the grounds of little technicalities …. cut off (meaning they are excommunicated)
Those that make spiritual mistakes …. come to understand
Murmurers …. learn doctrine

That idea that murmurers will learn doctrine I think refers to those people who are dissatisfied with the false doctrine they have been fed and who murmur against it. (I don’t think it means those who murmur against true doctrine.) Those who are genuinely dissatisfied with false doctrine and want the truth open themselves up to the influence of the Holy Ghost and eventually will learn the truth.

I’ve seen all of this happen. It’s happening now. Do you see it?


Anonymous said...

Absolutely do I see it. Apostasy is subtle as is Satan, and it has always been a thorn in the church. Why should these days be any different?
Isaiah is clear in many areas, but mainly that revelation is the key. If we are able to recognize and RECEIVE revelation from the Lord, independently without having to rely on others to get it for us, we will survive the spiritual tests that are coming.
As Heber C. Kimball said, "...a test, a Test, a TEST is coming."