Monday, June 30, 2014 2 comments

Why I (and you) can jump into family history research now

It has seemed to me that in the past 15 years, every few years there is a big push to do work on family history, with lots of noise on the general conference level and on the ward level about how the game has changed and finding your ancestors is easier than ever.

In my last ward, there was a lady who was on a mission at the family history center in Mesa and she often bore testimony of the amazing advances in technology that the Lord was bringing to the work of family history research.  (I love you, Sister Nance!)  She was so excited so often that I just couldn’t ignore her.   Because of her, I would TRY to do things in my family history.   But I never seemed to get very far.

I’m going describe for you some of the very real obstacles I faced in getting more involved in family history.  (I’m pretty confident that you will recognize these same obstacles are ones you’ve faced.)  Then I’m going to describe how these obstacles are being overcome.

I remember when I first started looking at family history stuff on the computer, my dad gave me a copy of his Personal Ancestral File (PAF), that data file that had what seemed like oodles of names already in it.  (PAF is no longer in use.) 

Clicking around my PAF file, it seemed like so much had already been done.  Who was I to think that I could somehow add to that immense amount of data—names, dates, places, ordinances?   And where did all those names, dates, and places come from?  How did they figure that stuff out?  How could I know that information was accurate?  If I happened to come across conflicting information, how would I know what information was right and what was wrong?

(This problem was underlined to me when I went through the family history information my Grandpa had accumulated by the time of his passing.  He had several printed out copies of family trees and had circled and noted conflicting information.  I could just imagine that his lawyer mind was probably highly annoyed by those conflicts and he was probably trying to resolve them.)

When the International Genealogical Index came online, I was very interested in using it to search for ancestors.  But to test how effective it was, I first tried to find my dead grandparents in it.  (Start with who you know, right?) I got a resulting list of names, but nothing that helped me see how I could tell whether one particular record had the right person or not.  I said to myself, If I can’t find and recognize the people I know, then how can I be sure I can find and recognize the people I don’t know?   And I gave up.

Around the time Family Tree came online, I was in a ward in which the leadership recommended that we take some time to try to merge duplicated individuals in our family trees.  I took the counsel and put some work into that.  As I studied certain individuals in preparation for merging them, I noted some startling discrepancies in dates.  I wondered, “How can people think these are the same individuals when their dates are so different?”  It made me really wonder where they had gotten that information.  After a while it got so I couldn’t tell with any confidence what information was right and what was wrong, and without any way of telling, I gave up again.

About five years ago, I took a class from ASU on family history research in which the major assignment of the semester was to write a family history narrative for each person in my four generation pedigree chart.  I learned about the records that are used in family history research and I learned how important it was for sources to be cited.  

It was then that I realized why I had a troubles getting into family history research to do temple work.  The nature of the research requires that you accumulate evidence in the form of documents to back up your assertions, but there was no efficient way to share that evidence with other people who might be interested.  Also, it is the careful consideration of that evidence that helps a researcher figure out the next thing to look for, so without some way to look at the records, it would be hard to make progress.

So, here are the main problems:
--You need a way to determine if you’ve found the right person.
--You need a way to examine other people’s work on people in your tree.
--You need a way to centrally share documents used as evidence so that other people don’t have to duplicate searching efforts.

Another problem that bothered me about doing family history research was that I had this idea that I was only allowed to do temple work for direct ancestors and their siblings.  I looked at my family tree and how far back it went and I didn’t feel I had the research skills to make a contribution to the lines that end in the 1600s or 1500s.   My concern is often echoed by you and others in this form—“My family’s work has already been done.” 

Now, here’s the thing that is totally exciting—the church has figured out how to solve most of those problems.   The way they solved them is simple in concept, but the way they have implemented it is very sophisticated and extremely user-friendly.  They made a way for us to attach sources we find to people in our family tree.  (Look for the “Attach to my family tree” button.)  And not just the information on the sources is tied to the tree, but the digitized images of the sources, so you can look at an image of the actual document (like a census) and find out that great-grandpa Jones was a miner who lived in a rented cabin.

And when you attach sources, Family Tree does all the work for you.  It makes an entry, it creates a citation in the correct format (for all those genealogists who are sticklers for their citations), and it provides a link to the source so anyone can see it.

What this means is that we can finally begin to document our ancestors’ lives with sources and evidence and everyone will be able to see that and help build on it.  It means I was finally able to see evidence that shows one of my ancestresses sometimes went by “Anna” and sometimes by “Hannah,” and that made it so the discrepancy doesn’t bug me anymore.   I could tell Anna was the same as Hannah by all the people around her in the record.

Not only that, but Family Search also makes it very easy to attach records you’ve found to all the family members listed in the document.  I could attach that 1900 census not just to Hannah, but to all Hannah’s siblings and her parents, so I did that, for which their descendants will probably thank me some day when they decide to work on their family history.  If I found a sibling of Hannah that isn’t in Family Tree already, that was exciting because it meant I found someone who’s going to need temple work done!

Now, concerning this idea that “all the work has already been done.”  Contrary to my previous notions, we are allowed to work on collateral ancestral lines.  If our ancestors had siblings that married, we can find their spouses and do their work.  We can find their children and do their work.  We can find the parents of the spouses and do their work.  They are all family.  What this amounts to is finding cousins.  We will probably have to get permission first from their descendants, but we can do it.

Finding the sources and attaching them to your family tree is what is going to help you make progress finding people who need their work done.  It’s going to give you information that will help you break down the brick walls where you’ve been stuck.

Getting youth into family history

There is a reason the church is saying the youth should get involved in family history research, but it’s not necessarily because they are good with technology and grown-ups aren’t.  It’s because it is easy enough that the youth can do it because it doesn’t require nearly the time investment that it has in the past.  

The major advantage youth have in doing family history research is they don’t have any preconceived notions of how it used to be or any of the discouraging memories of how hard it was.   (Adults have often tried to do it in the past, sometimes multiple times, and have given up.)

The church is making the search process easier.  Each person in your family tree has their own profile page and in the right side there is a place called “Record Hints” that lists records automatically found by the software that have a very high probability of belonging to that person.  (This seems to have been added just recently.)  You just have to look at the records to make sure and then you can attach them to that person with one click. 

Another way the church is making the search process easier is by including a “Search Records” link on each ancestor’s page.  When I am on Hannah’s page, when I click “Search Records” in the right sidebar, it takes me to a search screen and the software has already populated Hannah’s info into the search fields so I don’t have to constantly retype it.  That makes it really fast.  I can add more search terms or change them easily.

Also, the search results show a lot more detail now than they did just five years ago and I can make a pretty good judgment just by looking at them that they are or aren’t what I’m looking for. 

After I have attached a bunch of records to Hannah’s profile page in Family Tree, I can see what I’ve got at the bottom of her page.  And if you run your mouse arrow over the right side of those source entries, you will find little up/down arrows that allow you to reorder the source list.  I like to put them in order that they occurred in Hannah’s life so I can tell more easily what records are missing.  After putting them all in order, I have 1900, 1920, 1930 censuses and then I know that there is still a 1910 census record to find.

One thing I have learned over the space of 15 years is you can only temporarily give up on family history research.  The tools are changing and they can change really fast.  If you get stuck, give it two years, just do indexing, and then try it again.  (Put it on your calendar.)  By the time you get back into it, the search tools will have evolved to make the process easier, more sources will be online, and you will be able to find things you couldn’t find before.  

I had a nagging desire to work on family history that bit me back in April and eventually I decided to just jump back in and LOOK at things in Family Tree just to see if there was anything I could do.  I hadn’t touched it for something like four years, and I had given up three separate times in 15 years.  But I was astounded at how much had changed and excited to see I could attach sources to my ancestors.  Since then, I have spent just about every Sunday afternoon searching for sources on the ancestors I know about, and in the process I found collateral lines that needed work done.   For the first time, I found someone.

Do you know how satisfying that was?  After all the times I had tried and stopped work on family history, I FOUND PEOPLE WHO NEEDED TEMPLE WORK DONE!!  (The audience goes wild, slings roses in all directions, and moshes enthusiastically with the orchestra while the world rejoices)

Other family history research tools: Puzzilla

One difficulty with Family Tree is that it is hard to navigate around.  I recommend using instead.  Puzzilla is an internet tool that directly interfaces with your Family Search account and creates a tree with dots on it that allow you to see as far back as 8 generations. 

How does this help?  It helps you find the holes in your chart really fast.  I can choose Hannah and see all her descendants, or I can choose the option see all her ancestors.  Then it gives me a nice little link that takes me right to that Hannah’s profile page in Family Search so I can start searching for records on her.

Other Tools: Ancestry, Findmypast, MyHeritage

A very exciting development is that the church is partnering with Ancestry, FindMyPast, and MyHeritage so that members will have free access to those databases.  They have a number of difference sources that FamilySearch doesn’t have.

 So now what?

Go look at your Family Tree account.  There’s a nice sweet spot that goes back to about 1860 that is pretty well documented where there are lots of records.  Look at your grandparents, great grandparents, and g-g-grandparents and find sources to document them and their family members.  You might be surprised at what you find.

More reading
A 100-page manual on how to use Family Tree  

“In Which We Bid Farewell to NewFamilySearch and WelcomeFamily Tree” at Keepapitchinin.  (Keep in mind that since this was posted, Family Tree has made attaching sources even faster than just using the Source Box.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014 0 comments

The Lord calls Samson’s Parents to Prepare Samson: Judges 13

The visit of the angel to Samson’s parents and the events in Judges 13 that transpire in that incident are very similar to Gideon’s call to deliver Israel.  1) Instructions are given 2) sacrifice is made 3)they see miracles as the angel ascends into heaven 4) They feel they have been presumptuous and worry they will die because they have seen God. 5) They realize they will not die because they Lord has accepted their sacrifice.

The question that comes to me now is, “Why did the Lord call the parents of Samson instead of Samson directly this way?”

The answer seems to be that extra preparation for Samson was required and that the nature of the obstacles he faced required he be raised a certain way so that he could better deal with them.  At the beginning of Judges 13 it says the Lord had delivered the Israelites into the hands of the Philistines for 40 years.  That’s a long enough time that a significant portion of the population didn’t know what independence even looked like for their own people.  The younger portion of the population might be inclined to raise their social status by affiliating themselves in some way with the Philistines who ruled over them.  Samson would fight a lot of social apathy and inertia.

It is interesting that the angel came to visit Manoah’s wife first, and then when Manoah prayed to have the angel visit them again to instruct them, the angel came to his wife again and not directly to him; she had to run get him.   This might look like a slap in Manoah’s face from the Lord, but I think there is another better way to read it.

I love that the Lord answered Manoah’s prayer; it showed that the Lord cared just as much about him as his wife.  I love that Manoah’s wife ran to get him when the angel came; it shows how anxious she was to have her husband be included in the spiritual experience.  I think this shows the Lord blessed Manoah’s wife with the first visitation in order to challenge Manoah to exert his own faith and request to be included.  To his credit, he did.

I think there is a great message here for men in the church.  You often hear them say that women are more spiritually in tune, blah, blah, blah.. but this story teaches us that the spiritual experiences of faithful women are meant to be a challenge to men to show them what blessings men can enjoy too if they will humble themselves and ask and seek and knock, etc.

How was Samson to be prepared if he was to “begin to deliver Israel” as the angel said?  You can imagine this would be a very important question for Samson’s parents to ask, and Samson’s father, Manoah, asks it. “How shall we order the child, and how shall we do unto him?” 

  Interestingly enough the angel doesn’t say anything about weapons or fighting.  He essentially repeats all the things previously told Manoah’s wife: 1) His wife is not to eat or drink anything from the vine, or wine, or strong drink and 2) Everything told her before she is to beware—no razor to shave his hair, and he is supposed to be a Nazarite unto God from the very beginning.

So how is being a Nazarite and doing these things supposed to prepare him to begin to deliver Israel?  It’s the little differences and the purpose behind them that will set him apart.  His life will be structured differently because of being a Nazarite and having to avoid wine or strong drink.  He’ll look different because of his hair, and he won’t be touching the dead, so he won’t be going to certain places like to graves and such.  These differences are small, but they have a big purpose--being set apart to God.  They help build moral strength to live differently from other people.  The little things can lead to big things and big courage.  Being obedient in the little things and feeling the Lord’s favor gives strength to be obedient in the big things that will require battle and trusting the Lord.

That reminds me a lot of the standards in For the Strength of Youth pamphlet. Those guidelines are small and simple things, but they help set youth apart for the Lord, and the experience gained in following those standards helps build greater moral strength for greater challenges that lie ahead.  And I don't think that those standards are only for youth. They can bless any adult at any age who is willing to follow them.

It is neat to me that the angel doesn’t just say Samson is to do this, but also instructs Samson’s soon-to-be mother that she is to avoid drinking wine and strong drink as well.  She becomes a kind of half-Nazarite, and her example will help Samson learn how to find permissible things to drink.  (Her obedience during her pregnancy also ensures Samson will not suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome.)

So, do the little differences of being a Nazarite help?  To some extent, yes, but Samson’s tendency to break other commandments ends up casting a shadow over his story.  We can only wonder how his story would have been different if he had found better women.

Monday, June 23, 2014 0 comments

The Weird Civil War Between the Gileadites and the Ephraimites in Judges 12

As background for this section, this occurs after Jepthah beats the Ammonites in a great slaughter: 

1 And the men of Ephraim gathered themselves together, and went northward, and said unto Jephthah, Wherefore passedst thou over to fight against the children of Ammon, and didst not call us to go with thee? we will burn thine house upon thee with fire.
2 And Jephthah said unto them, I and my people were at great strife with the children of Ammon; and when I called you, ye delivered me not out of their hands.
3 And when I saw that ye delivered me not, I put my life in my hands, and passed over against the children of Ammon, and the Lord delivered them into my hand: wherefore then are ye come up unto me this day, to fight against me?
4 Then Jephthah gathered together all the men of Gilead, and fought with Ephraim: and the men of Gilead smote Ephraim, because they said, Ye Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites, and among the Manassites.
5 And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites: and it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay;
6 Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand. (Judges 12:1-6)

The Ephraimite complaint against Jepthah is similar to the one their people leveled against Gideon about a generation before—that he hadn’t asked for their help when going to fight the enemy.  “We’re so angry that you went to battle without us so that we couldn’t put our lives in danger too!”

The really odd thing in here is that they threaten to burn his house down with him in it.  The punishment they wish to inflict is out of all proportion to the “crime” they accuse him of.  It is better suited to someone hated, despised, and pariahed.  We must conclude they hate him.  Even weirder, this is a hero they are threatening.

Jepthah calls them on their bad argument.  He points out they didn’t get to participate because of their own behavior—“when I called you, ye delivered me not out of their hands” (v2).  It is unclear here whether Ephraim had been called and they refused to come, or whether they came and their help was not enough.  Either way, their outrage indicates something very ugly going on behind the scenes of Ephraimite leadership.

If they had been called and they refused to come, then they were lying to themselves about this supposed offense of Jepthah’s, trying to make themselves look braver than they really were, delaying until the danger was over when there would be no way to test their claims to courage.  There might have been some ruling men who decided to suppress the call, taking a wait-and-see approach.

Or, if they had come and their help hadn’t been effectual, Jepthah would certainly be right to leave them behind.

It is also possible that Jepthah was despised personally for his illegitimacy.  If his half-brothers prevented his inheriting, other parts of Israelite society might be uncomfortable with him eventually being made head of the Gileadites and garnering such respect.  (Remember Deuteronomy 23:2 says, “A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the LORD.”)

Still, however they felt about Jepthah, their charge is trumped up, and the thing they want to do about it is not even a suitable way of solving the problem, and is vicious.

Jepthah reminds the Ephraimites that he was the one who took the risk and the Lord delivered his people, and he asks them, “Wherefore then are ye come up unto me this day, to fight against me?” (v3)  He’s not satisfied with their reasons because they are so petty.

But the Ephraimites came with an army, obviously intending to fight, so Jepthah has to fight back.  And he does.

Jepthah isn’t the only one that comes in for abuse.  The Ephraimites also insult the Gileadites, saying, “Ye Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites, and among the Manassites” (v4).  Don’t forget the Law of Moses provided for fugitive cities where accidental murderers could take refuge until the high priest died.  Calling the Gileadites “fugitives” labels them as miscreants living on the border where it is so lawless, as if they belong in a fugitive city because they must have all done something wrong to want to have someone like Jepthah to lead them.

Whether the Ephraimites were cowardly or incompetent fighters, it caught up with them because Jepthah and the Gileadites beat them.  (Someone should have told them it is stupid to pick a fight with a war hero and his peeps who know how to trust in the Lord.)  In the end, those accused of being “fugitives” made the Ephraimites into fugitives, and soon the proud Ephraimites denied they are Ephraimite to try to escape back over the river.

All in all, 42,000 Ephraimites die in their ridiculous pretext for image.  With that many men determined to mobilize under this weak reasoning (but not willing to help Jepthah against the enemy) this probably represented a cleansing of the Ephraimite line.

One thing I get from this story is that honor doesn’t (and shouldn’t) come without doing the work first.  Jepthah and the Gileadites hazarded their lives and had to trust the Lord in battle, and the Lord got the credit and honor for saving them, and they got the honor of being the instruments of it.    The Ephraimites pretended to be brave and made threats and talked lots of smack, but when pitted against the Gileadites, it became obvious who were the heroes. 

Are there any areas in our lives where we demand the respect without having done the work?  Sooner or later, we’ll run up against the real experts who will reveal how weak we really are. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014 0 comments

More on Jepthah

As I’ve studied Jepthah’s life in Judges 11, I’ve started to see that his character is really amazingly good, considering he is the son of a harlot.  He exhibits excellent qualities that, if he had any other parentage, would make us think he had really good parents who taught him well.

--Even though his half brothers kick him out and won’t allow him to inherit, he doesn’t seek revenge.  He goes elsewhere to live.
--When the elders of Gilead appeal to him for help, rather than refuse, he forgives them and helps them.
--He agrees to rule over the people who previously cast him out, and he protects them.
--He parleys with the enemy king about why the king is invading and uses not just good judgment, but good religious reasoning. 
--He is anxious enough about securing victory for his people that he makes a vow—the one we generally refer to as “rash”— which actually gives the Lord the freedom to determine the cost of the victory.  This shows a ton of faith. 
--When the cost proves to be sacrificing his only daughter, he says he can’t break his vow.  His integrity is amazing.
--He is also sensitive to his daughter’s request for some extra time.
--He has evidently raised his daughter to be obedient and to keep promises too because she is united with him in the determination that he can’t break his vow.

The little bit about Jepthah’s daughter’s request for two months to bewail her virginity may not make much sense unless we consider that Jepthah, as an illegitimate child, had to be aware of the Law of Moses rule that “A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation..” (Deut. 23:2).  With such good character, Jepthah would have brought up his daughter to this knowledge that it was absolutely imperative that she stay chaste until marriage so that future generations of their family would be able to enter the congregation of the Lord.  This would have been reinforced over and over, so her sacrifice meant that she had to give up that prospect of being married and having future posterity who could enjoy the full blessings of the house of Israel (which may have been church membership or may have been temple worship).  

Thus, the tradition to mourn the daughter of Jepthah yearly was actually an attempt to reward Jepthah’s daughter posthumously for giving up the chance for posterity who would continue her name; remembering her yearly and in the scriptures ensures she isn’t forgotten for her noble unselfishness.

Jepthah’s story is very similar to Abraham’s test to sacrifice Isaac, but the text makes us think that Jepthah seems to have had to go through with it.  

 If it makes anyone feel any better at all, supposing that he did offer her as a burnt offering, I doubt that he burned her alive.  Probably he did what would be done to any sacrificial animal—cut a vein and let the blood out, and once she was dead, then burn the body.   I’m not saying that would be any easier on Jepthah, I just suspect that it wasn’t the cruel burning her alive that everyone envisions..

On the other hand, the Law of Moses was pretty clear that there was to be no human sacrifice, and Jepthah could have dedicated his daughter to lifelong service at the Tabernacle, which would have fulfilled the vow, much like Samson and Samuel were dedicated to the Lord.

As I wrote in a comment on my previous post, it is fascinating that the text doesn't say exactly what Jepthah did to keep his vow; it just says that he kept it, and now everyone is left to wonder how he kept his vow.   I had a bit of a brainwave about it--maybe that was meant intentionally by the writer to cause people to think that he DID sacrifice her, in order to make it more like a type of Christ.
Thursday, June 19, 2014 2 comments

Jepthah and Jepthah’s daughter as a types of Christ

Jepthah is the guy who made the rash vow that if the Lord would deliver the Ammonites into his hands then he would offer as a burnt offering the first thing that came out to meet him from the doors of his house when he got home.  (It makes you wonder if he had some animal that always came out to meet him..)
30 And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,
31 Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.
32 ¶So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the Lord delivered them into his hands.
33 And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.
34 ¶And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter.
35 And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back.
36 And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the Lord hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon.
37 And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.
38 And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains.
39 And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel,
40 That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.  (Judges 11:30-40)
As we see, it was his daughter who was first to meet him when he came home, and then he realized what a rash vow he made.

Commentators are pretty anxious to show that he never actually kept the vow, but Judges 11:39 says that he did to her according to the vow.

The amazing thing was that she was willing to allow herself to be offered as a sacrifice.  That should tip us off that this story makes her into a type of Christ.  Her sacrifice was directly tied to the victory of Israel over the enemy, just as Christ’s sacrifice was directly tied to the victory over death and sin.  She was the only child of her father, just as Jesus was the Only Begotten of His Father.  Again, she was a willing sacrifice, just as Christ was a willing sacrifice.

In Jepthah, of course, we see a type of the pain our Heavenly Father felt in sacrificing His son Jesus.  You have to give him credit as he says, “I have opened my mouth to the Lord and I cannot go back” (v35).  The idea of breaking his vow was unthinkable to him, even though it put him in an extremely painful position.  That shows us just a glimpse of how seriously Heavenly Father takes His covenants.

Jepthah himself also has aspects to his life that make him a type of Christ. 

He was born of a harlot in such a way that there was doubt about who his father was, though he was widely considered a son of Gilead.  Christ was born of a virgin, but those who disbelieved that would be much more likely to believe that Mary played the harlot.  Jesus was considered the son of Joseph and also the son of God.

Jepthah was rejected by his brothers who were determined he would not inherit.  He was cast out.  Similarly, Jesus was rejected by much of Israel, His countrymen.

There are other events of Jepthah’s life that typify events to come that Jesus will be a part of, such as the way Jepthah’s people turned to him in their national distress, when hounded by their enemies.  Similarly, the Jews will turn to Jesus Christ in their national distress and look for the Messiah to save them, promising to make Him their head and be ruled by Him if He will save them, as the elders of Gilead promised Jepthah.

Not only this, but the solemn oath made to Jepthah by the elders of Gilead to make him their ruler if he would save them is a type of how we promise to make Christ our ruler (and obey his commandments) if He will save us from sin and death.
Tuesday, June 17, 2014 0 comments

Jacob considers how God is keeping the covenant

At the end of Jacob’s life, he talks to his son Joseph in Egypt and we see in the JST of Genesis 48 what his perspective is about the events of his life and how they fit with the covenant God made with him so long ago.
And Jacob said unto Joseph, When the God of my fathers appeared unto me in Luz, in the land of Canaan; he sware unto me, that he would give unto me, and unto my seed, the land for an everlasting possession.
Therefore, O my son, he hath blessed me in raising thee up to be a servant unto me, in saving my house from death;
In delivering my people, thy brethren, from famine which was sore in the land; wherefore the God of thy fathers shall bless thee, and the fruit of thy loins, that they shall be blessed above thy brethren, and above thy father’s house; (JST Genesis 48:7-9)
Jacob realized that in order for the Lord to keep the covenant to give the land Canaan to Jacob and his posterity, the Lord saved Jacob and his family from the famine.  (After all, if there are no people left to inherit, then the Lord can’t keep the covenant.) 

It must have given Jacob a good feeling to know that even if the Lord’s covenant hadn’t been fulfilled in his lifetime, he could still see how the Lord was working to prepare the way for it to be fulfilled in the future.  This gave him the hope that it would be fulfilled as the Lord said.  That’s a really faithful attitude—to not be angry that it wasn’t being fulfilled in his own lifetime.

Looking at it from another perspective, even though Jacob would die soon, his spirit would get to see over generations how the covenant would be fulfilled.  It would give a righteous spirit something to look forward to, wouldn’t it, seeing the culmination of all the promises and prophecies fulfilled little by little throughout the history of the world.

Both Jacob and Joseph had great spiritual maturity to see how their mutual suffering and grief was turned to the good of themselves and families.  I hope that at the end of my life I’ll be able to look back and see how my suffering 1) turned to my good and 2) helped prepare the way for the Lord to fulfill His covenant.
Sunday, June 15, 2014 0 comments

The Manner the Twelve Choose Another Apostle in the New Testament

 Before the apostles do anything, Peter gives a little discourse about the need for a new apostle to replace Judas Iscariot and he ends with this:

21 Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,
22 Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.
23 And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.
24 And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen,
25 That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.
26 And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.  (Acts 1:21-26)

The lot process they used is an interesting one, as it gives us an indication of how the apostles operated. 

We might think this casting their lots was a matter of choosing a name out of a container, but that wasn’t it—that is chance.  What it was was every apostle gave a lot according to who he felt God had shown him was to be apostle.   (Everyone seems to think that the apostles “cast lots,” but the wording is very particular.  It is different from everywhere else.  It says “they gave forth their lots,” meaning they each had a choice and signified it with a token of some sort and “the lot fell upon Matthias” shows the unity of those choices.)

This wasn’t a situation where majority rules.  This was a case where unanimous rules.  They had to be united, just like their testimonies had to be united.  If it were merely a choice by man, there would be all sorts of opinions, but they needed God to show them, ALL of them, who God chose, therefore there could only be one answer.

I also notice they studied the matter out first, and they got their best options as far as that went.  Peter discussed the necessity of calling a new apostle and how it must be one who could be a witness of the resurrection and they chose two men who could fill that requirement.

Then they prayed for revelation to know which one of those two men God had chosen.  I suppose that if they got no answer either way, they would have gone back to considering candidates again.

The neat thing is that the Lord doesn’t confine this confirming testimony to just the apostles.  He will give it to other members as well.  We can receive it about prophets, apostles, other general authorities, stake presidents, bishops, and so on.  Just last year our stake had a new stake presidency appointed and during the meeting as the new stake president spoke, I received a confirming witness he was called of God.  It wasn’t a dramatic rushing wind, rather it was the Spirit saying at the back of my mind, “Yes, this is the new stake president.”

Friday, June 13, 2014 0 comments

A Time of Crisis and Famine: Joel 1

1 The word of the Lord that came to Joel the son of Pethuel.
2 Hear this, ye old men, and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land. Hath this been in your days, or even in the days of your fathers?
3 Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.
4 That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpiller eaten.
5 Awake, ye drunkards, and weep; and howl, all ye drinkers of wine, because of the new wine; for it is cut off from your mouth.
6 For a nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number, whose teeth are the teeth of a lion, and he hath the cheek teeth of a great lion.
7 He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig tree: he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white.
8 ¶Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth.
9 The meat offering and the drink offering is cut off from the house of the Lord; the priests, the Lord’s ministers, mourn.
10 The field is wasted, the land mourneth; for the corn is wasted: the new wine is dried up, the oil languisheth.
11 Be ye ashamed, O ye husbandmen; howl, O ye vinedressers, for the wheat and for the barley; because the harvest of the field is perished.
12 The vine is dried up, and the fig tree languisheth; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree, even all the trees of the field, are withered: because joy is withered away from the sons of men.
13 Gird yourselves, and lament, ye priests: howl, ye ministers of the altar: come, lie all night in sackcloth, ye ministers of my God: for the meat offering and the drink offering is withholden from the house of your God.
14 ¶Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord your God, and cry unto the Lord,
15 Alas for the day! for the day of the Lord is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come.
16 Is not the meat cut off before our eyes, yea, joy and gladness from the house of our God?
17 The seed is rotten under their clods, the garners are laid desolate, the barns are broken down; for the corn is withered.
18 How do the beasts groan! the herds of cattle are perplexed, because they have no pasture; yea, the flocks of sheep are made desolate.
19 O Lord, to thee will I cry: for the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame hath burned all the trees of the field.
20 The beasts of the field cry also unto thee: for the rivers of waters are dried up, and the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness.

Joel 1 is a peculiar chapter because there is so much emotional language of distress about famine.  This is famine is so bad that:
--four waves of different insects have gone over eating up what’s left (v4)
--the drunkards with have no new wine (v5)
--the vine is laid waste (v7)
--an enemy has barked the fig tree, or damaged it to kill it (v7)
--the field is wasted (laid waste or completely destroyed) (v10)
--the harvest of the field is perished (v11)
--all the trees of the field are withered (vines, figs, pomegranates, palms, apples (v12)
--the seed is rotten in the fields (v17)
--the garners (where harvest is stored) are desolate and the barns are broken down (v17)
--there is no pasture for the cattle or sheep, so the beasts grown, the cattle are perplexed, and the sheep die (v18)
--wild pastures and trees have been burned (v18)
--the rivers are dry (v20)

And then there is a thought that is repeated three different times that shows us how bad it really is:

The meat offering and the drink offering is cut off from the house of the Lord; the priests, the Lord’s ministers, mourn. (v9)

Gird yourselves, and lament, ye priests: howl, ye ministers of the altar: come, lie all night in sackcloth, ye ministers of my God: for the meat offering and the drink offering is withholden from the house of your God. (v13)

Is not the meat cut off before our eyes, yea, joy and gladness from the house of our God? (v16)

The Israelites were supposed to bring to the temple their first fruits of harvest as a meat and drink offering and a portion of that given to the priests so they could subsist while serving in the temple.  These verses tell us of a famine that is so bad that no one has any first fruits to bring in, assuming the people are faithful and would bring an offering if they had any harvest).  Thus, the priests possibly are in danger of starving, as are any others who do not have food stored.

This is a very sad and scary situation, and Joel’s assessment of it is, “The day of the Lord is at hand.” (v15) and the people are supposed to respond in a certain way –“Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord your God, and cry unto the Lord” (v14)  The famine is “as a destruction from the Almighty,” (v15) which will require faith and prayer and fasting and lots of charity and miracles to get through.

Verses 2-3 also say something that should make us think very hard:

2 Hear this, ye old men, and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land. Hath this been in your days, or even in the days of your fathers?
3 Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation. (Joel 1:2-3)

Joel wants us to think about whether we’ve seen something like this happen.  Do any old men remember a famine like this or did their parents or grandparents remember something like this happening?  Odds are we haven’t.  And if we haven’t, then we must consider this a prophecy to be fulfilled some time in the future, and we should pass it down through the generations so each generation can prepare themselves for it if it should happen during their lives.

This is especially important for us today, especially since many of us in first world countries are insulated from effects of famine.  There is a global supply chain for food that brings us a huge variety from all over the world.  That global supply chain is a very helpful thing for when one area of the world has a bad harvest because the other harvests elsewhere can compensate and the price goes up.  But if we had a global famine, we would be in big trouble.  A global famine would certainly be termed “as a destruction from the Almighty” (v15).  It would be the very thing to take the world by complete surprise and it is also the thing a year’s supply of food is designed to get families through.

Joel doesn’t use the highly charged language of distress to reach people already in famine.  People in that kind of situation know when it is bad.  They don’t need anyone to tell them that.)  He’s trying to reach people who enjoy great abundance; he’s trying to wake them up to consider and prepare for what is coming even though it is not known exactly when.  It takes faith to gather food and prepare for famine in the midst of abundance, just like it took faith for Noah to build an ark before it rained.

It is interesting Joel doesn’t seem to be doing much to call to repentance in this chapter, aside from telling the drunkards (who have presumably been self-medicating) that they aren’t going to have their fix for a long time because the supply is all gone.  Rather, he tutors on appropriate response to the disaster—gathering together, fasting, and prayer.  (Repentance is more implied.)

We might wonder what the modern equivalent would be of meat and drink offerings cut off from the house of the Lord.  But imagine a famine so bad that farmers can’t pay tithing or fast offerings.  Or imagine if it moves up the chain such that no one has money to pay tithing because their job has disappeared and they’ve spent all their savings on food.

This chapter backs up the prophetic counsel give over multiple generations to the church to build a year’s supply.  A year’s supply is useful for an economic backup, but it is really designed for widespread famine of the type Joel writes of.

Soo.. how’s your food storage and your three-month supply?
Wednesday, June 11, 2014 0 comments

The New Song Sung Before the Throne

And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps:
And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. (Revelation 14:2-3)

That metaphor of the new song is an intriguing one.  Just think, a song that no one could learn but a certain group of people—the redeemed.

What could the Lord be trying to teach John (and us) with that idea of a new song?

When I was primary chorister and I had to learn a new song to teach the kids, I had to listen to it over and over to learn it.  Because I have piano-playing skills, I would play it on the piano and sing along with it over and over to learn it.  I had to follow the notes and play it right.  It took a lot of practice to memorize it.

I think the idea of a song helps communicate that the redeemed had a message to share with everyone, and just like a song has both words and music, the message a redeemed person has to share has both content and profound spiritual power attached to it.   The spiritual power is compared to music, it’s something that can’t be expressed with just words.

Learning the new song absolutely requires obedience.  If a note is different, it is not the new song any more.  So we see that no one can learn the song except the redeemed who are determined to be obedient.  So the song could also be interpreted as the way of life of the redeemed.

Learning the song takes practice, just like living the life of a Saint takes practice.  You learn to put the notes in the right order and how long to stay on each one, just like living as a Saint requires you to live your life in order and to do the appropriate things at the right time for the appropriate length of time to get the spiritual benefit.

I like that these verses imply that all the redeemed are singing this new song together.  I get a sense of unity and joy, rather than monotony; a sense of community rather than loneliness.

I like that they sing the song before the throne and the four beasts and elders; it gives the impression that the redeemed are performing for God and for the pleasure of heaven’s inhabitants.  They know who their real audience is and they play to that audience, rather than to the world.

I’ll just leave you with Alma’s words that have a neat connection to this idea of a new song:

And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now? (Alma 5:26, emphasis added)