Tuesday, May 25, 2010 5 comments

House of Jewels: Four possible interpretations of Isaiah 54:11-12

Isaiah has some very beautiful language in this chapter. He speaks of Zion as a barren woman and bids her to enlarge her house for the children who will come. I will concentrate on two particular verses and describe some of the possible ways of interpreting them while still retaining their doctrinal power and correctness.
11 O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires.
12 And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones. (Isaiah 54:11-12)
First, I think we can interpret this as a promise of literal heavenly mansions. This isn’t hard when we remember that Christ spoke of many mansions in His Father’s house and that He would go and prepare a place for us. These verses are like a window into heaven to watch the building process. As the righteous mourn over wickedness and repent, every godly tear shed adds a jewel to their celestial mansion. “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

Second, I think that we can interpret this as a promise of a glorious resurrection. In verse two, Isaiah speaks of a tent (a temporary home), but in verses 11-12 he speaks of a glorious building, something much more permanent. This corresponds with our knowledge that the mortal body is a temporary home to our spirit, but the resurrected body will be the permanent home of our spirit.

Further, the architectural features that are described by Isaiah—stones, foundations, windows, gates, and borders—can roughly correspond to parts of the body. The foundation on which the body stands is the feet. You could think of the “stones” as the toes. The windows to our soul are definitely our eyes. The gates could be our mouth. Our borders, as the outside of our body, could be our arms, our profile or shape, or our skin. You may think I’m stretching a little as I come up with these connections, but the overall interpretation of these verses as a testimony of the resurrection is still valid.

A third interpretation of these verses is as a promise of the restoration of the gospel and the organization of the church. Previous dispensations were begun and faded away like a tent raised in the wilderness which later collapsed in sandstorms. Verses 11-12 give the Lord’s promise that he would lay the foundations of this gospel dispensation with jewels and treasures (representing priceless truths) and continue to add more and more jewels in every feature. This is certainly true; in every feature of our faith we find value.
Stones and foundations = knowledge of God’s nature (through direct revelatory experience and through additional scriptures revealed), priesthood authority and keys
Windows = prophets, seers, and revelators through which light and guidance from God is transmitted
Gates = priesthood ordinances such as baptism whereby people enter the kingdom of God
Borders = sphere of stewardship and responsibility (callings), ward and stake boundaries, and most literally, the smallest branches of the church at the very outskirts

Really the jewels can represent three different things:
  • The truths restored
  • The good works from the people gathered as God works through them
  • The people themselves who are gathered
A fourth interpretation pertains to our families. God lays the precious foundation through temple marriage between a man and a woman. “I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir” (Isaiah 13:12). “Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies” (Proverbs 31:10). In this family, the woman becomes the jeweled gates through which treasured children are added. “And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children” (Isaiah 54:13). Truly, who can find a peaceful, obedient child? For they are more prized than pearls. And all the borders of the righteous family grow and grow as it adds more generations.


We have seen that there are multiple interpretations of these two verses of Isaiah and they can be discerned through our testimony of the gospel, of the restoration, of the sanctity of the family, of the resurrection, and of the promise of a place in the celestial kingdom.
Sunday, May 23, 2010 2 comments

Nephi’s vision of Christ’s baptism

2 Nephi 31 is known for these verses that missionaries use to convince people of the importance of baptism:
5 And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water, to fulfil all righteousness, O then, how much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized, yea, even by water!
6 And now, I would ask of you, my beloved brethren, wherein the Lamb of God did fulfil all righteousness in being baptized by water?
7 Know ye not that he was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments. (2 Nephi 31:5-7)
Underlying these verses though, are indications that this knowledge came in a miraculous way—through a vision and through the voices of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ speaking to him. It is easy to miss, but if we slow down, we’ll see it as we notice the prevalence of the word “show” (and all its forms) and how many times dialogue is presented.

…remember that I have spoken unto you concerning that prophet which the Lord showed unto me, that should baptize the Lamb of God, which should take away the sins of the world. (2 Nephi 31:4, emphasis added)
Nephi was given a vision of John the Baptist and his baptism of Christ.
Wherefore, after [Christ] was baptized with water the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove. (2 Nephi 31:8)
The fascinating thing about this verse is that it was written before Christ was baptized, yet it is written in past tense. This strongly suggests that Nephi had seen a vision, and because of it, he thought of Christ’s baptism as an accomplished fact rather than an event yet to happen.
9 And again, it showeth unto the children of men the straitness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate, by which they should enter, he having set the example before them.
10 And he said unto the children of men: Follow thou me. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father? (2 Nephi 31:9-10)
This tells us that in Nephi’s vision he had seen Christ teach people to follow His example. (And again, it is interesting that Nephi speaks to his people of following Christ even though Christ’s baptism would not occur until many hundred years after they lived.)
And the Father said: Repent ye, repent ye, and be baptized in the name of my Beloved Son. (2 Nephi 31:11)
Nephi sees that Heavenly Father became a second witness to the principles of repentance and baptism. When Heavenly Father speaks to witness of something, you know it is of utmost importance.

Divine commentary

After this, Nephi hears the voices of both Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father giving commentary on the vision that Nephi had seen.
And also, the voice of the Son came unto me, saying: He that is baptized in my name, to him will the Father give the Holy Ghost, like unto me; wherefore, follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do. (2 Nephi 31:12, emphasis added)
(Notice also that Christ points out that Nephi has seen Christ be baptized (and probably much more).)
14 But, behold, my beloved brethren, thus came the voice of the Son unto me, saying: After ye have repented of your sins, and witnessed unto the Father that ye are willing to keep my commandments, by the baptism of water, and have received the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, and can speak with a new tongue, yea, even with the tongue of angels, and after this should deny me, it would have been better for you that ye had not known me.
15 And I heard a voice from the Father, saying: Yea, the words of my Beloved are true and faithful. He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved. (2 Nephi 31:14-15, emphasis added)
Both the Father and the Son explained to Nephi the importance of following Christ’s example to be baptized and the importance of enduring to the end. Wow. Then Nephi adds his testimony:
And now, my beloved brethren, I know by this that unless a man shall endure to the end, in following the example of the Son of the living God, he cannot be saved. (2 Nephi 31:16)
Nephi also tells why this great witness has been given to him.
Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. (2 Nephi 31:17, emphasis added)
The fact that Nephi’s knowledge of the importance of baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end came through a vision and through the voices of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ makes this one of the most powerful scriptural witnesses of these principles. What greater witness can we have than from God?
Sunday, May 16, 2010 1 comments

God promises Enoch influence

Behold my Spirit is upon you,
wherefore all thy words will I justify;
and the mountains shall flee before you,
and the rivers shall turn from their course;
and thou shalt abide in me, and I in you;
therefore walk with me.
(Moses 6:34)
Recently I was thinking about this verse when God calls Enoch to be a prophet. I realized that while God was talking literally about mountains fleeing and rivers changing course, mountains and rivers were also being used as symbols for types of people. The mountains symbolized people who were lifted up in pride. The rivers symbolized people who were very set in their ways, who did things a certain way, and who flowed down to the lowest spiritual level. God promised Enoch that through the words given him, the proud would begin to fear (and humble themselves) and those who were set in their ways would change their course (for something better). I thought that was awesome. Literal control of the elements is miraculous, but I think that change for the better in a person’s life is no less miraculous.
Friday, May 14, 2010 2 comments

The anointing and subsequent betrayal of Christ

In this post I will examine the incident of Christ’s anointing, the varying expectations among those involved, probe the misunderstandings it caused among the apostles, and show how this set in motion the events of Christ’s betrayal and crucifixion.
6 Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper,
7 There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat.
8 But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste?
9 For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor.
10 When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me.
11 For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.
12 For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial.
13 Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her. (Matthew 26:6-13, compare to Mark 14:3-9)
This story raises many questions in my mind.

Why did this woman anoint Jesus for His burial while He was still alive? Isn’t that premature? It seems like the equivalent of measuring someone for their coffin or something. How valuable was this ointment? Why were the apostles so hung up on the anointing? Why were they focused on waste instead of the appropriateness of the woman’s worshipful gesture? Why did Jesus call it a good work? Sooo many questions..

The version of this story in Mark says that the ointment could have been sold for 300 pence, which was a lot of money. One pence was a day’s wage for a laborer, according to the parable of the vineyard workers in Matthew 20:1-2, so 300 would be nearly a year’s salary. In our modern terms, it might be around $30,000.

This leads me to another question—how did she get so much of it?

To acquire that perfume, the woman may have scrimped and saved for years. Perhaps she had been using it as her life savings, as something that could easily be converted into cash if she needed it. Maybe it was her one luxury that she enjoyed in life. I envision her occasionally opening the bottle on a bad day and smelling it to cheer herself up. And in one moment she poured it all out on Jesus. Why?

Or might she, like Simeon or Anna, have dreamt of a day when she might meet the Messiah? Might she have thought about what she would do if she ever did? Maybe she had such faith in the prophecies of a coming Messiah that she decided to prepare a fitting tribute and had been accumulating it for that purpose. Perhaps it was her way of keeping her hopes up and building her anticipation; the longer she had to wait, the more ointment she could accumulate and the more dramatic her tribute would be.

I bet everyone was living in anticipation that Jesus as the conquering hero who would take over Israel, liberate it from the Romans, and restore it to its rightful place of glory and prosperity. (This could possibly be indicated by the nearness of the event to the triumphal entry.) Even the apostles didn’t understand that Jesus was going to be killed by the Jews, even though He told them multiple times throughout His ministry, after his crucifixion, they asked Him when He would restore the kingdom to the Jews. (see Acts 1:6)

In this context, her anointing had to have been an act of adoration and worship of the Man she anticipated would shortly be crowned King. She would not have done it if she didn’t believe He was the epitome of greatness. She felt that He was worthy of the honor.

So, did she intend to anoint him for His burial? Probably not. If she had, she probably would have done it with weeping and wailing and made a big scene. But if she did it in anticipation of his Messiahship, why then did Jesus say she did it for His burial?

I think Jesus knew why she did it but chose to put a different construction on it to testify of His mission. Jesus knew that she had anointed Him to honor Him as a future king, and it was a very flattering gesture. He could have let it go to His head, and let it persuade Him that maybe He wouldn’t have to die. But no, He was determined not to let this distract Him from His mission of redeeming the world through suffering and death. So how would He react to the woman? She had been very kind, and He couldn’t chastise her for that. Interestingly, He chose to try to use it as a teaching tool to reiterate His upcoming death. So He pointed out that she had done a good thing to anoint Him for His burial. This was true; the perfume probably was strong enough that it would persist on His body and His clothes for a good long time afterwards, through the scourging and abuse He suffered and through His crucifixion. (After Jesus was dead, the women had to wait for the Sabbath to end before they would be able to anoint His body and then when they went to anoint Him on the third day after He was buried, but He was already risen.)

The apostle’s reaction is also very interesting. It is one of those times when Jesus and the apostles are at odds with each other. How did this happen? When the woman poured the expensive ointment on Jesus, the apostles undoubtedly thought of Jesus’s counsel to sell all and give to the poor and felt like the woman’s generous gesture had been misguided. They must have thought, Pouring that stuff on Jesus benefits only Jesus, but selling it and giving the profit to the pour would be a much more socially beneficial act of worship.

Then Jesus turned everything upside down and declared that the woman had done right and she’d be remembered forever for what she did!

This must have been hard for the apostles to swallow. They may have felt that their judgment was being disregarded. They were trying so hard to follow Jesus’s counsel and now He throws this curve ball at them. Perhaps they wondered if He was starting to get too big for His britches. Maybe they thought He had suddenly fallen into the temptation of self-aggrandizement and exalting Himself by putting Himself before the poor. (He was really pointing out that when you have a choice between A) doing it to Christ by doing it to one of the least of these with proxy service and B) doing it directly to Christ, it was preferable to do it to directly to Christ while He was still around. After Christ was ascended to heaven, He would be completely satisfied with proxy service.)

Another factor that may have made the woman’s act acceptable to Christ was that somehow it must have been necessary in order to fulfill Messianic prophesy about Him. I went looking for scriptures about anointing and I found these verses from Psalms that could have some bearing:
7 Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.
8 All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad.
9 Kings’ daughters were among thy honourable women: upon thy right hand did stand the queen in gold of Ophir.
10 Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear. . .
11 So shall the king greatly desire thy beauty: for he is thy Lord; and worship thou him.
12 And the daughter of Tyre shall be there with a gift; even the rich among the people shall intreat thy favour. . . .
17 I will make thy name to be remembered in all generations: therefore shall the people praise thee for ever and ever. (Psalms 45:7-12, 17)
Again, it the apostles didn’t realize that and were angry because their judgment was disregarded and contradicted. How angry were they? Angry enough that one of them couldn’t stand it any more, as the story immediately following Jesus’s anointing indicates:
14 Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests,
15 And said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver.
16 And from that time he sought opportunity to betray him. (Matthew 26:14-16)
But Jesus knew all about that. Very soon afterward, He commented on it.
21 And as they did eat, he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.
22 And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I? (Matthew 26:21-22)
I used to wonder why it was that each one of the disciples were sorry and asked if they would betray Jesus until I realized that it indicated that each of them had recently been offended by Him. They had been angry with him for allowing the woman to anoint him and for His reproving answer to their objections. So when Christ pointed out that one of them would betray him, they remembered their anger and were instantly pricked in their hearts. They each wondered if their resentment had taken them to the point of betraying Christ and they became very sorry for their anger.

All except for Judas.
23 And [Jesus] answered and said, He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me.
24 The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born.
25 Then Judas, which betrayed him, answered and said, Master, is it I? He said unto him, Thou hast said. (Matthew 26:21-25)
Finding the connection between these incidents has shown me that no matter how good we may be, there is still a possibility that we may become offended and betray Christ and the truth. In the case of this story, it arose from a clash over which principles should take priority at the moment—care for the poor versus worship of the Savior, and expectations of His kingship versus His mortal mission as suffering servant-redeemer. These moments can come unexpectedly and it takes great humility to defer to greater spiritual authority.

  1. The woman was anointing Jesus to honor Him as conquering Messiah, consistent with the hope of His followers that He would save Israel from the Romans.
  2. Jesus chose to use the incident to point to His mission as suffering servant.
  3. His statement that her act was good made the apostles angry because it seemed inconsistent with what He had been teaching them about charity and giving to the poor.
  4. This incident was the impetus for Judas’s betrayal
  5. Jesus’s prediction that one of the apostles would betray Him pricked the other apostles’ consciences and humbled them to repentance.
Thursday, May 6, 2010 4 comments

King Noah’s priorities

Recently when I was reading through the story of King Noah and what he did, something jumped out at me that I had never noticed before about his choices of building materials and where he put them.

8 And it came to pass that king Noah built many elegant and spacious buildings; and he ornamented them with fine work of wood, and of all manner of precious things, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of brass, and of ziff, and of copper;
9 And he also built him a spacious palace, and a throne in the midst thereof, all of which was of fine wood and was ornamented with gold and silver and with precious things.
10 And he also caused that his workmen should work all manner of fine work within the walls of the temple, of fine wood, and of copper, and of brass.
(Mosiah 11:8-10)

King Noah used gold and silver on his own throne, but used wood, brass, and copper on the temple. Those choices scream loudly that his priorities were massively out of line. God was much further down on his priority list and the fact that he used the finest materials on his own stuff, meant he thought of himself first. It could also have been indicative of his ideas about his own power versus the power of God.