Sunday, September 29, 2013 2 comments

Spoiled Through Philosophy, Col. 2:8

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. (Col 2:8)

For a long time I used to think “spoil” in this scripture meant “treat with excessive indulgence so as to destroy or ruin a person’s good nature,” like an indulgent parent might spoil a child.  Recently I realized that wasn’t the way the scriptures use it at all.  The scriptures use “spoil” to express how soldiers loot and pillage after a battle.

The apostle Paul was warning the Saints to be careful that they not allow the philosophies of men to pillage them of the hope and assurance they had through Christ.  He was concerned that the tendency to question and disparage evidence felt through the Spirit rather than seen or heard or experienced by tangible means would convince the Saints that their hope in Christ and the resurrection was foolish.

I think the same warning still stands today.
Friday, September 27, 2013 2 comments

The Sign in the Questioning of Seantum for His Brother’s Murder, Helaman 9:25-38

In Helaman 9 when the prophet Nephi gives the second sign to the unbelieving judges, there are some very odd features about it that have puzzled me more and more.

25 And now behold, I will show unto you another sign, and see if ye will in this thing seek to destroy me.
26 Behold I say unto you: Go to the house of Seantum, who is the brother of Seezoram, and say unto him—
27 Has Nephi, the pretended prophet, who doth prophesy so much evil concerning this people, agreed with thee, in the which ye have murdered Seezoram, who is your brother?
28 And behold, he shall say unto you, Nay.
29 And ye shall say unto him: Have ye murdered your brother?
30 And he shall stand with fear, and wist not what to say. And behold, he shall deny unto you; and he shall make as if he were astonished; nevertheless, he shall declare unto you that he is innocent.
31 But behold, ye shall examine him, and ye shall find blood upon the skirts of his cloak.
32 And when ye have seen this, ye shall say: From whence cometh this blood? Do we not know that it is the blood of your brother?
33 And then shall he tremble, and shall look pale, even as if death had come upon him.
34 And then shall ye say: Because of this fear and this paleness which has come upon your face, behold, we know that thou art guilty.
35 And then shall greater fear come upon him; and then shall he confess unto you, and deny no more that he has done this murder.
36 And then shall he say unto you, that I, Nephi, know nothing concerning the matter save it were given unto me by the power of God. And then shall ye know that I am an honest man, and that I am sent unto you from God.
37 And it came to pass that they went and did, even according as Nephi had said unto them. And behold, the words which he had said were true; for according to the words he did deny; and also according to the words he did confess.
38 And he was brought to prove that he himself was the very murderer, insomuch that the five were set at liberty, and also was Nephi. (Helaman 9:25-38)

Take that first question, “Has Nephi, the pretended prophet, who doth prophesy so much evil concerning this people, agreed with thee, in the which ye have murdered Seezoram, who is your brother?”  The question is technically a loaded one about on par with “Have you stopped beating your wife, yes or no?”  The question Nephi tells them to ask presupposes that Seantum has murdered Seezoram, and an innocent man would object to that presupposition, as would a guilty man who wished to conceal his guilt.  Yet it is very strange that with all the other emotional and physical reactions that Nephi prophesies that Seantum will have later, this first question doesn’t seem to raise anything besides a simple “No.”  What is he saying no to?  We can observe that the simple “no” can be taken as a denial of both agreement and murder or an ambiguous denial of one of those.  This doesn’t seem to get anyone anywhere.

I really didn’t understand why Seantum was not worried until the second question, “Have ye murdered your brother?” and not when the first is asked.

What I finally realized was that the judges questioning Seantum were also part of the Gadianton robbers.  This may seem obvious, but as I thought about the true implications of this, I began to realize that this brought into the dialogue a subtext that Seantum would read differently than he would have if the questioning had been done by someone outside the Gadianton robbers.

We have to keep in mind that the Gadianton robbers protected their own from suffering for their crimes or from being exposed to Nephite justice, so the Gadianton judges probably thought that if they did the questioning, they could protect Seantum and that Seantum would easily deny any charge against him.  What they didn’t realize was that the line of questioning that Nephi laid out for them was inspired by God with the purpose of using the Gadianton’s own association and culture of wickedness against them, using questions that would seem almost absurd.  It is likely that if the Gadianton judges suspected any particularly pointed question, they would have altered it or softened it.  That they didn’t alter it meant that they thought there was no way that it would succeed and therefore wasn’t much of a danger to them or Seantum.

What the Lord designed that first question to do was give Seantum the impression that his questioners were speaking to him confidentially about Gadianton business, merely to find out who was involved in a particular caper.  “Has Nephi, the pretended prophet, who doth prophesy so much evil concerning this people, agreed with thee, in the which ye have murdered Seezoram, who is your brother?”  It makes it seem like they were uninformed the murder was supposed to happen and they just want to get the real facts of the matter.  Again, an innocent man would immediately have been worried by this question, but a Gadianton would not, if talking to other Gadiantons.

The second question was, “Have ye murdered your brother?”  The Gadianton judges thought it would be easy for Seantum to make a confident show of denying his involvement and bold-face his way through it.  They fully expected that Seantum would deny it, but they didn’t realize that the question carried subtext to Seantum that they perhaps didn’t mean.  In Seantum’s eyes, that question would reveal that they were not asking in the role of fellow-associates, but as investigators.  Investigation implied they didn’t approve of the murder.  (They may have approved, but the question made him think they didn’t.)  Thinking they didn’t approve might lead Seantum to think that somehow he had run afoul of a particular Gadianton faction that favored Seezoram over him and was angry at what he had done.  He might worry, not about Nephite justice, but Gadianton “justice.”  Or he might begin to wonder if his questioners were going to throw him under the bus and betray him for their own advantage.  It is here that he begins to fear, to not know what to say (since he no longer is sure these questioners on really on his side), and to deny his guilt and declare his innocence.  But his denials are too delayed.. and they are desperate.

Then, they examine Seantum and find blood on the skirts of his cloak.  This puzzled me for a long time because it seemed incredibly stupid that Seantum didn’t get rid of his cloak or have it washed or something.  I mean, really!  You’d think he would be smart enough to notice he had blood on him, right?  It kept bothering me until I noticed it talks about “the skirts of his cloak,” and not “skirt.”  It may have been multiple panels of cloth that made up this cloak, not just one, possibly to indicate status.  The more cloth involved, the more difficult it would be to catch and clean blood spatters.

The next questions the Gadianton judges asked –“From whence cometh this blood? Do we not know that it is the blood of your brother?”—might sound to them like they are making a wild assertion, especially since for all they know Seantum could have killed other people since killing his brother.  But to Seantum it would sound like his questioners had seen his animosity and jealousy against Seezoram building for a long time and had predicted that it was only a matter of time before he struck.  It would make him wonder, “Am I that transparent?”  This would make him worry that other Gadiantons saw it too and disapproved.   This made him tremble and look pale as he worried he would have to deal with the anger of other Gadiantons.

The next thing the Gadianton judges say seems even more strange.  “Because of this fear and this paleness which has come upon your face, behold, we know that thou art guilty.”  It seems odd to tell someone they are guilty just because of the fear they manifest.  It is contrary to all our ideas of justice!  People are supposed to be pronounced guilty because of direct evidence or a collection of circumstantial evidence that strongly supports an inference they committed the crime over other options.  The blood on Seantum’s clothes could be called circumstantial evidence, but they don’t really have a way to say with scientific certainty that it is Seezoram’s blood.   And yet, this wacky line is enough to put the fear of God into Seantum and make him confess everything!  So what is it about that observation that scared Seantum even more?

To the judges making those statements, it would sound like another bold assertion that was full of hot air.  To Seantum, it sounded different—menacing.  Why?  As I pondered  and prayed about this, my mind fastened on the words “thou art guilty,” and I remembered another verse earlier in Helaman:

And whosoever of those who belonged to their band should reveal unto the world of their wickedness and their abominations, should be tried, not according to the laws of their country, but according to the laws of their wickedness, which had been given by Gadianton and Kishkumen. (Helaman 6:24)

Seantum thought he was being pronounced guilty by Gadianton law in an impromptu trial and that he was about to be punished for his crime.  If he had been innocent, being called guilty just because of his fear and paleness would have made him angrily declaim against the injustice of it, but Seantum was too well acquainted with Gadianton trials to see that declaration as meaningless.  It is possible he himself had condemned other Gadiantons under similar groundless causes with flimsy or nonexistent evidence.  Further, he thought he was being condemned for revealing Gadianton doings to the prophet Nephi, thus his fear, his confession, and his violent insistence that Nephi knew nothing about the matter except it were given by the power of God.

So, the miracle of Nephi’s second sign is that even with Gadiantons trying to protect their own in the questioning process, the questions that looked harmless and laughable forced them to condemn one of their own and prove Nephi’s innocence.  It is a prime example of how the Lord takes the wicked in their own craftiness. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013 0 comments

In this Wise

Every once in a while I totally geek out in the scriptures and find myself focusing something that appears at first glance to be unimportant, but which I can’t help but become curious about and research.  This is probably one of those posts, so if you want to come with me down my little rabbit-hole, you’re perfectly welcome, but otherwise, don’t feel obligated.  I did eventually draw a little lesson from it, for those of you who want to continue reading, so maybe it will benefit you as it did me.

Okay, disclaimers out of the way.. on we go, fellow scripture geeks! (waving sword above head)

Here’s the verse I looked at, which is from the beginning of King Limhi’s speech to his people after the arrival of Ammon.  I noticed that Mormon introduced the speech in a very interesting way.

And it came to pass that when they had gathered themselves together that he spake unto them in this wise, saying: O ye, my people, lift up your heads and be comforted; for behold, the time is at hand, or is not far distant, when we shall no longer be in subjection to our enemies, notwithstanding our many strugglings, which have been in vain; yet I trust there remaineth an effectual struggle to be made. (Mosiah 7:18, emphasis added)

I am fascinated by “in this wise”!  It implies to me “in this way,” and makes me think that the speech put in was not necessarily a direct quotation of Limhi but a synthesis and summary of his main points and direction of thought.  If Limhi had been an elaborate speaker, that could account for Mormon’s desire to hurry it up a bit.

I went online and looked for synonymous expressions of “in this wise” and found the following:
And so forth
And so on
Even so
In such a manner
In such wise
In this degree
In this way
To this extent

..which confirms my supposition that it was the Reader’s Digest condensed version.  It might be interesting if a statistical word print was done on Limhi’s speech to see if it matched Mormon’s or not.

When you go back and read what we have of Limhi’s speech, you realize it covers a ton of ground.
  1. Salvation is near; be happy
  2. Trust God who delivered our fathers
  3. We’re in bondage because of wickedness
  4. The Lamanites planned to bring us into bondage
  5. We have great reason to mourn: 1) tax 2) bondage 3) death 4) sin 5) killing a prophet 6) contention
  6. A prophet told the people about Christ and to repent
  7. Christ would be a man
  8. The prophet was killed
  9. The Lord doesn’t save wicked people
  10. Turn to God, trust Him, serve Him, and we’ll be delivered.
All in all, it is about how the people are about to be delivered.  It says, “Look, we’re in a bad place right now, we did these bad things, but if we will repent and trust the Lord and keep His commandments, things can get better from here.”  It’s a great one for members who have turned away from the Lord for whatever reason and are feeling stuck or enslaved.   I can remember using it that way a few times myself when I felt oppressed by oodles of schoolwork and had let my efforts to serve the Lord flag a little.  It inspired me to get back on the stick and begin again to do all I could do.

Okay, so what can we learn from this little detail showing Mormon collapsed Limhi’s speech with “in this wise”?  I think it shows how anxious Mormon was to use the plates to the best advantage and give his readers the best of spiritual things.  It demonstrates a certain economy of transmission—that there is no point in saying more if just enough will do.  That is a great concept we tend to forget.  If we can write unlimited-length blog posts with no cost for the length that doesn’t mean we should.

Sometimes I have worried that my blog posts are too short and that they don’t give enough.  Yet if Mormon saw fit to compress Limhi’s speech to the essentials, I suppose I need not be ashamed of a blog post stripped to the essentials. 

I find it rather funny that this blog post started with examination into something that seemed nonessential and turned into a reflection on transmitting the best of spiritual things.  Does that mean this blog post preaches against its own existence?  :-B

You decide.
Monday, September 23, 2013 0 comments

Ammon and Limhi Discuss Seership, Mosiah 8:17-18

In the book of Mosiah, Ammon and King Limhi have a little discussion about the gift of translation and seership, and Ammon says some things about a seer’s abilities that Mormon loved enough to preserve for us:

17 But a seer can know of things which are past, and also of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed, or, rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light, and things which are not known shall be made known by them, and also things shall be made known by them which otherwise could not be known.
18 Thus God has provided a means that man, through faith, might work mighty miracles; therefore he becometh a great benefit to his fellow beings. (Mosiah 8:17-18)

When you look at that verse 17, it sounds like there is a lot of repetitive phrases which might at first look like it was just for emphasis, but if you examine it carefully, you can see that there are some very subtle shades of meaning, which indicates that the speaker (and writer) wanted to convey exactly what they meant and so they worked hard to capture in words the denotations they wanted to communicate by the term “seer” :
1.     Know of things past
2.     [know of] things to come
3.     reveal all things
4.     secret things made manifest
5.     hidden things come to light
6.     things not known are made known
7.     things made known that otherwise could not be known

Also, if you look at the last four things on that list, it may seem like they are synonyms for each other, but they each have their own shades of meaning as well.

Secret things – To me this means principles kept only for those who need to know
Hidden things – This seems like principles that Satan has tried hard to conceal by corruption or removal
Things which are not known – Principles no one thought of
Things…that otherwise could not be known – Principles that have to be revealed and would not be known without revelation and can’t be discovered with any other way of knowing

General Conference is coming up very soon in which we get to listen to prophets, seers, and revelatiors.  If you are looking for an interesting lens to view it, try looking for principles that are taught which could only be known through revelation and seership.

Friday, September 20, 2013 2 comments

"Yes, Sergeant Instructor!": Larry Echo Hawk’s Story in Oct 2012 Conference

This story from Larry Echo Hawk’s talk “Come unto Me, O Ye House of Israel” has intrigued me for quite some time, so I thought it was time to post about it, even if it was given two conferences ago..

I volunteered for service in the United States Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. Soon after my arrival in Quantico, Virginia, for basic training, I found myself standing at attention in front of my barrack’s bunk along with 54 other Marine Corps recruits. I met my drill instructor, a battle-hardened veteran, when he kicked open the door to the barracks and entered while screaming words laced with profanity.
After this terrifying introduction, he started at one end of the barracks and confronted each recruit with questions. Without exception, the drill instructor methodically found something about each recruit to ridicule with loud, vulgar language. Down the row he came, with each marine shouting back his answer as commanded: “Yes” or “No, Sergeant Instructor.” I could not see exactly what he was doing, because we had been ordered to stand at attention with our eyes looking straight ahead. When it was my turn, I could tell he grabbed my duffel bag and emptied the contents onto my mattress behind me. He looked through my belongings, then walked back to face me. I braced myself for his attack. In his hand was my Book of Mormon. I expected that he would yell at me; instead, he moved close to me and whispered, “Are you a Mormon?”

As commanded, I yelled, “Yes, Sergeant Instructor.”

Again I expected the worst. Instead, he paused and raised his hand that held my Book of Mormon and in a very quiet voice said, “Do you believe in this book?”

Again I shouted, “Yes, Sergeant Instructor.”

At this point I was sure he would scream disparaging words about Mormons and the Book of Mormon, but he just stood there in silence. After a moment he walked back to my bunk and carefully laid down my Book of Mormon. He then proceeded to walk by me without stopping and went on to ridicule and disparage with profane language all remaining recruits.

I have often wondered why that tough Marine Corps sergeant spared me that day. But I am grateful I was able to say without hesitation, “Yes, I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” and “Yes, I know the Book of Mormon is true.” This testimony is a precious gift given to me through the Holy Ghost with the help of two missionaries and a priests quorum adviser.

This story is remarkable because it demonstrates the power of a simple, yet forceful affirmation of our affiliation with the church and our belief in the Book of Mormon.  Can we doubt that the Spirit testified to the sergeant of the truth of Larry Echo Hawk’s terse words?

I have tried to imagine what it would have been like to be this sergeant and suddenly have a Spirit-filled testimony of the Book of Mormon come at me like this..

“Are you a Mormon?”

“Yes, Sergeant Instructor!”

“Do you believe in this book?”

“Yes, Sergeant Instructor!”

WOW.  It must have been like a bolt from the blue, like a trumpet blast in the face, or a sword to pierce joints and marrow.  It clearly disarmed him and confounded him so that he could say nothing against it.

I don’t think the sergeant was completely ignorant of Mormons or the Book of Mormon because when he saw the book, he knew it was considered scripture.  He knew enough and he was curious enough that he was willing to interrupt his abusive tirade at the Marines and ask a few serious questions and in a more respectful tone.   (We don’t know what exact tone he took; it is possible to put just as much scorn into quiet words as loud ones, but Elder Echo Hawk’s story suggests that it was more respectful, since he calls the tone “whispered” and “quiet.”)  Maybe he had known a few Mormons before.  We don’t know.

But why whisper about it?  Was it out of respect or was it to conceal a departure from the tough image he was trying to cultivate with the new recruits?  I don’t know.

The next question I found myself asking was, “Why is the sergeant looking through Larry Echo Hawk’s belongings?”  It seems pretty rude of him to do that, and the story makes it sound like Larry Echo Hawk was specifically targeted.  But then, that may be part of an act put on to intimidate the new recruits, sending the message of, “You belong to the government now, and so does everything you own.  What’s yours is mine and what’s mine is my own.”   But I have to wonder if this sergeant also looked through stuff belonging to the other recruits.  Brother Echo Hawk doesn’t say, so it could have been either way.  Perhaps the sergeant was just looking for ways to insult and break down each recruit and he found something easily for each recruit without looking through their stuff until he got to Larry Echo Hawk and then somehow he couldn’t find anything, so he decided he had to dig through his belongings.  (Any Marines or former Marines want to chime in and shed light on this?)

I also wonder what Larry Echo Hawk's comrades thought who might have heard this exchange.  It sends an interesting message when one guy escapes getting roasted by the sergeant instructor.  One might be curious and watchful to see what kind of guy the sergeant instructor could not find fault with.

There are several principles taught from this story:
1)   You never know who is going to express curiosity and interest in your religion.  It might be someone you’d never expect (like sergeant instructors who swear like a blue streak).
2)   Own you're a Latter-day Saint without hesitation.
3)   Forceful affirmations of the truth carry just as much spiritual power as extended testimony. 
4)   Testimony can soften hearts, even those of battle-hardened men.
5)   Experiences of staying true to our testimony bring joy throughout the rest of life each time we remember them.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013 0 comments

Jesus says some odd things about John the Baptist, Matt 11:7-20

7 ¶And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?
8 But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses.
9 But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.
10 For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
11 Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
12 And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.
13  But the days will come, when the violent shall have no power; for all the prophets and the law prophesied that it should be thus until John.
14  Yea, as many as have prophesied have foretold of these days.
15  And if ye will receive it, verily, he was the Elias, who was for to come and prepare all things. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
16 ¶But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows,
17 And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil.
19 The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.
20 ¶Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not:  (Matthew 11:7-20, including JST 11:13-15)
In these verses, Jesus says some odd things about John the Baptist that we sort of understand in a general way, but when we think about it on a more granular level, they start to seem really puzzling. 

We understand that Jesus speaks to people who don’t quite appreciate John as he should be appreciated and that He praises John.  But how can Jesus call John “a prophet….and more than a prophet?  In what sense can one be more than a prophet while not being the Messiah?

Also, how is it that John is essentially called the greatest of those born of women yet in the very next breath Jesus puts him on a lower level than the least person in the kingdom of heaven? 

We also understand that Jesus wasn’t too pleased with the generation that He lived in and how they weren’t responding to the different messengers sent to them, even with the different ways those messengers worked.  But it is hard to tell whether He means that He and John were the pipers and mourners or whether the people were the pipers and mourners that Jesus and John were acting differently than what was expected of them.

And another question we might have is, in what sense was the kingdom of heaven suffering violence and being taken by force between the days of John and Jesus, and in what way will the day come that the violent shall have no power?  I’ve often assumed this would be the Millennium, but might it mean anything else in addition?

All these questions.  Let’s start from the beginning.

Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? – It seems John made it rather inconvenient to get to him if the people had to go out to the wilderness to hear him.  Jesus asks the people to ask themselves what their real reason for going to listen to John was.  This is about understanding your own motives.  We might well ask the same question today.  What do we go to general conference for?  Or stake conference?  Is it to be seen by others so that they think we are a good person?  Is it for curiosity?  Is it to hear something new? 

What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? – Jesus asks them whether they expected John to be someone who would cave to the pressure and teach something that pleased most of his audience or change his tune if some powerful person or vocal group was displeased with his message.  If they want someone like that, they don’t want a prophet; they want a politician.  I sometimes wonder if there aren’t some members in the church today who think doctrine is determined by vote or by special interest lobby and go to conference always hoping to hear prophets reverse themselves on some important issue.

But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. – Jesus asks the people whether they expected John to be someone who represents a comfortable life of luxury.  If so, they’re clearly looking in the wrong place.   The same thing might be asked of us today.  Do we take the prophets and apostles as examples of worldly success?  If we do, we’re looking in the wrong place because they gave those things up, and we should instead be looking at the captains of industry and business.

But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. – If people actually went looking for a prophet, Jesus tells them that they actually got more than a prophet because it wasn’t a random prophet, but one who had been foretold of, prophesied to come at a very important time, “For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.”  Think about that for a second—a prophet is extra special if their coming was prophesied ahead of time by other prophets along with prophecies of the Messiah.  We know of a few prophets who are given this “prophesied of” status.  Joseph in Egypt prophesied of Moses, and Joseph Smith.  Moses testified of Christ.  Isaiah testified of Christ and John the Baptist, and in fact Christ was quoting Isaiah about John the Baptist here.  Lehi prophesied of John the Baptist as well (see 1 Nephi 10:7-10).  John the Revelator prophesied of two prophets who would testify to Jerusalem in the last days.  That’s all I can think of off the top of my head.

Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. – In what sense are we to understand this?  There may be several.  John the Baptist baptized the repentant, but he could not give the gift of the Holy Ghost.  He was in fact waiting for the Messiah to come who would give that gift, so those who have the power of the priesthood and who can confer the Holy Ghost are in that sense greater than John the Baptist.  From another perspective, the people noted that John did no miracles, but Jesus did, and Jesus also told his disciples that they would see and do greater things than Jesus had done.  This tells us that miracles are a natural part of the kingdom of heaven.

And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. – This is a little commentary about what it was like for believers in Jesus’ day of which we don’t see much evidence, so it must be taken on faith.  It tells us that believers in the Messiah did not live in safety; those who did not believe used violence and threats to intimidate them and often succeeded in silencing and squelching them. 

But the days will come, when the violent shall have no power; for all the prophets and the law prophesied that it should be thus until John. – I had to think about this a lot and ask myself under what conditions would the violent have no power.  The obvious answer was “in the Millennium” when all wickedness is swept away, but another answer suggested itself when I thought of the early Christian martyrs who gave their lives rather than deny their testimony of Christ.   When one is determined to stay true to Christ and the Gospel regardless of threats or violence, then violent people really are powerless.  And to discover in what way all the prophets and the law spoke of this would require a separate study of itself, which I don’t have time to go into now.  

I’m grateful for this added bit from the JST because it shows us that Jesus really did see the suffering of His people, and He did not intend for the violent to succeed. 

And then Jesus gives an interesting metaphor in indictment of His people in that generation:

16 ¶But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows,
 17 And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.
 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil.
 19 The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.

For a long time I thought this meant that John and Jesus were the children piping and mourning in the marketplace and feeling disappointed that no one was responding as they hoped.  But recently I realized that it was the other way around.  Their generation was annoyed that John and Jesus weren’t acting “appropriately,” as dictated by what everyone else was doing, not realizing that both John and Jesus were acting as examples of what should be done, even though it was different. 

John came neither eating nor drinking in order to demonstrate how the believer should have little attachment to worldly things, and this was incomprehensible to the Jews who saw it as crazy not to relax and enjoy life.  John’s way of life was considered too ascetic for the taste of the Jews. 

 Jesus, for His part, came eating and drinking with all sorts of people, associating freely with everyone, and especially with those whom the Jews considered “outcast” and “impure” and whom they mourned over as dead to the faithful.  Jesus did this to show the wisest way to reclaim the sinners and the lost, but the Jews couldn’t understand why Jesus wanted to be with those people and why He didn’t seem to demonstrate any sorrow over their state like everyone else did.

Seen this way, we can see that if we’re not careful, we may duplicate this attitude in our day toward our modern prophets, if we ever find ourselves thinking to ourselves, “I think Elder___ is too extreme.  What he’s teaching is too crazy/too permissive/too strong/too strict/too_____.” (I confess I have done this before, so clearly I'll have to guard against it and repent.)  It shows we want them to fit with our views, when we should be looking at them as an example of a particular quality that Heavenly Father hopes that we will learn to make us better than we were before and different from the world.  

The prophets can’t be politicians, nor can they be examples of worldly success.   The only way we’ll see eye to eye with them is if we also keep our eye single to the glory of God.

Sunday, September 15, 2013 2 comments

Thoughts on Amalickiah’s Rise to Power Through Treachery, Alma 47-48

--> In Alma 47:1- 48:3, we see how Amalickiah rose to power among the Lamanites, and it is mostly through betraying people’s trust in him.
1)   He was trusted with the loyal part of the Lamanite king’s army.  He betrayed the army by making a secret agreement with Lehoni by which he tells Lehonti how to conquer the army.
2)   He betrays Lehonti’s trust by having him poisoned by degrees, even when Amalickiah was second in command.
3)   He betrays the Lamanite king by having him murdered.  This also betrays the part of his army that loves the Lamanite king.
4)   He betrays the trust of the part of the army that didn’t want to fight by having speakers of propaganda stir the Lamanites up to anger against the Nephites so that they want to go to war.
Clearly Amalickiah was an equal opportunity betrayer.  Being this guy’s friend was dangerous.

I used to have this idea that uniting his army with Lehonti’s automatically made the army united in purpose, but now I don’t think so.  I suspect that much of Amalickiah’s shenanigans after Lehoni’s death were efforts to keep the army together.  He had to play each side off the other and take turns giving each side what they wanted.  

I suspect that he promised Lehonti a united army would be more effective at resisting the Lamanite king’s command to fight.

He probably used the pro-war part of his army to administer poison to Lehonti, making them think this was all part of the plan to remove the anti-war resistance.

For the march back to the Lamanite capital, he probably assured the pro-war faction that they had succeeded, and then soothed the anti-war faction into compliance with the return by suggesting that assassinating the Lamanite king would be the perfect means of ensuring that they would not be subjected to go to war.

When the Lamanite king was assassinated (most likely by the anti-war faction of Amalickiah’s army), Amalickiah’s pretended anger and gave the pro-war faction opportunity to get revenge by allowing them to go after the supposed culprits, the king’s servants. 

The escape of the Lamanite king’s servants to Zarahemla was probably  a great excuse for Amalickiah to start war.  He could accuse the Nephites of planting assassins in the palace and make avenging the death of the king the reason why the Lamanites should go to war.  And the anti-war faction would have to go along with it or risk having their crime exposed.

Amalickiah is a very true type of Satan. Just like Amalickiah was not loyal to those who allied themselves with him, Satan does not support those who trust in wickedness.  A lot of people think they can break the commandments, keep the evil consequences under control, and have evil serve them, but Amalickiah’s treatment of Lehonti shows how Satan prefers to make us think we’re in control while his other forces take control and destroy us.

Another thing we learn about Satan from watching Amalickiah is that Satan’s forces are not united.  Satan uses this by playing each part off the other until he gets what he wants.  He gives side A chance to destroy side B for a while, then gives side B chance to destroy side A for a while, then vice versa.  Each side thinks they are the favored ones, but Satan’s only concern is to get more power and to destroy.

And notice, Amalickiah never does the dirty work himself; he only incites others to do it.  Likewise, Satan might argue he’s not personally responsible for the evil of the world; he doesn’t have a body, but he tries to influence people by giving them the bad ideas.  He tries to make those ideas look attractive and like they will give them what they want. 

Reading about Amalickiah, I always find myself wondering how Lehonti could ever have known Amalickiah was a bad guy.  How could he have protected himself?  John Bytheway has noted that Lehonti should never have come down from his mountain to talk to Amalickiah, yet something about that bothers me just a little bit.  What if it had been Captain Moroni with an army that was asking for a parley?  To me, to refuse to come down and even listen to a proposal before you even know what it is sounds close-minded. 

Eventually I realized that Amalickiah tipped his hand when he offered to betray his own army to Lehonti.   While this sounded like a very attractive offer to Lehonti, it should have been a big red flag that Amalickiah was not a man to be trusted.  A man who betrays his own people as a goodwill gesture to make friends with someone will think nothing of eventually betraying the new friend when advantage is to be gained elsewhere.