Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Mention of the Highest Celestial Degree in Deuteronomy (and other places)

Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the Lord’s thy God,
the earth also, with all that therein is.
(Deuteronomy 10:14)

I ran across this verse today in my scripture reading.  I saw that phrase “heaven of heavens” and I realized it was essentially a mention of the highest degree of the celestial kingdom.  In Deuteronomy!

Compare it with a term we are more familiar with—“holy of holies”—which refers to the most holy place in the temple.  It is the most holy of all the holy places.  So the heaven of heavens is the most heavenly place of all the heavens—the celestial kingdom at its highest degree.

Clearly we don’t give Moses enough credit. Yes, the Israelites may have rejected the higher law, but Moses didn’t, and with the Melchizedek priesthood, which holds the keys of the mysteries, he was not prevented from gaining greater knowledge of the eternities.

Is this the only place “heaven of heavens” occurs in the scriptures?  No.  It is mentioned in four other places in the Old Testament.

But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded? (1 Kings 8:27)

This is Solomon speaking during the dedication of the temple that he built. 

But who is able to build him an house, seeing the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain him? who am I then, that I should build him an house, save only to burn sacrifice before him? (2 Chronicles 2:6)

This is Chronicles’ version of many of the events that occurred in Kings, but we get something extra here where Solomon speaks as he is deciding to build the temple.  It sounds like Solomon felt very overwhelmed by the task of making something fine enough to be a worthy house of God.

But will God in very deed dwell with men on the earth? behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house which I have built! (2 Chronicles 6:18)

This is part of Chronicles’ version of the dedicatory prayer for Solomon’s temple.
(I have to point out that this idea that heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain God is a hyperbole and not literal.  We know this because of Joseph Smith’s first vision in which he saw Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ were two separate and distinct corporeal beings.  Also, the idea that heaven can’t contain God is logically paradoxical.  If we consider heaven as the environment around God and then compare it to a bag around a cat, it would be like saying no bag is big enough to hold the cat.  But then the bag has to expand.  But the cat is too big.  So the bag must expand.  Leave it to Solomon the wise to come up with religious paradoxes, huh?  Again the whole purpose of this hyperbole was to express his sense of overwhelm about building a temple fit for God.)

Sorry for the digression there..

The last mention of heaven of heavens is in Nehemiah.

Thou, even thou, art Lord alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth thee. (Nehemiah 9:6)

The time period is after the Jews have returned to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.  This is part of a prayer given by Levites when the Jews gathered to fast and confess their sins. 

After this, I thought I’d look to see if there was anywhere that used the term “highest heaven,” and it is only used in the section heading of D&C 131, where celestial marriage is revealed as essential to obtaining the highest degree of the celestial kingdom.    In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul tells of being caught up into the “third heaven” to see and hear unspeakable things.

It is nice to know these things are touched on in the Bible, albeit very lightly. 


Rozy Lass said...

Apparently the wicked priests (or whoever) didn't get rid of ALL the plain and precious parts. Thanks for sharing.

Adam G. said...

Good catch.

Curious, though. Could it be a literal belief that the dome of the sky had another dome above it. It's own sky, in other words?

Or it could be parallel to the common Mormon belief that God the Father has a Father. In other words, that there is a heaven that stands in relation to our heaven as our heaven stands to us.

Still a very interesting phrase you've found, though, and clear evidence that the Old Testament gospel included some elements that haven't been spelled out in the Bible.

Michaela Stephens said...

Adam, those options are intriguing to consider.

I personally am going to go with the idea that heaven of heavens refers to a location, rather than a person. And considering Moses had a vision of creation, we probably can rule out the "dome on top of the dome of the sky" notion.