Saturday, January 31, 2015 0 comments

Lessons from how the JST illuminates the parable of the laborers in the vineyard

The verses I want to blog about today (Matthew 19:16 – 20:16) have three different stories all linked together and which I think need to be read together so that they can be fully understood.  First the rich young man who declines to sell all he has to give to the poor and follow Jesus at Jesus’s invitation.  Second, the clarification to the disciples of how difficult conversion is for the rich and an explanation of the heavenly reward for difficult sacrifices.  Third, the parable of the laborers in the vineyard who are all paid equally even though they were hired at different times of the day.

I think the key to it all starts with the JST of Matt. 19:26 as Jesus explains who can be saved if it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God:

But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.
But Jesus beheld their thoughts, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but if they will forsake all things for my sake, with God whatsoever things I speak are possible.

So Jesus puts the spotlight on how the sacrifice of all things for Christ’s sake is an important principle of salvation, and of course we are to understand that the rich are very reluctant to sacrifice, which keeps them out of the kingdom.

So then the disciples ask what the reward of their sacrifice will be, since they have given everything up to follow Jesus, and Jesus tells them how they will be given a hundredfold of what good things they had to give up, and receive eternal life.  But then He adds a caveat that the first will be last and the last will be first, and He tells the parable of the laborers in the vineyard to illustrate what He means.

The parable shows laborers who were called to work latest getting their wages first, and the first laborers becoming miffed that working all day didn’t give them a bigger reward.  If we only focus on the time factor, we only get part of the message.  We are meant to understand that the length of time we are part of the kingdom doesn’t matter as much as something else.

There is something the first laborers say in their complaint—“Thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.” (Matt 20:12)  They are complaining, but if they could only see from the master’s perspective, a more optimistic view, this could become a cry of triumph and praise—“Thou hast made them equal spiritually unto us!”  A certain thing has made them equal, worthy of the same reward, but the first laborers don’t understand what it is.

This factor is SACRIFICE, as Jesus mentioned earlier.  We don’t get this from the parable very well because the laborers were standing idle before they were hired, but we can easily see it if we think about what it takes to be converted earlier in life versus later in life.  For those converted early in life, the sacrifice happens as they remain faithful all their lives.  For those converted late in life, they sacrifice all they have been and done previously, all the life they previously built for themselves, as well as their sacrifices to remain faithful afterward.  If we are inclined to dismiss someone else’s sacrifice, we will certainly find ourselves among those complaining laborers, thinking someone else is not worthy of the reward the Lord gives and expecting more ourselves.

I also believe that when the day of judgment comes and the rewards are given out, they will be given out in the order described in that parable.  Those who converted latest in life will be rewarded first and those of us who have grown up in the church will receive our rewards last.

Why will it be done like this?  I think Heavenly Father and Jesus understand how anxious will be those who converted late in life, and it is done this way to reassure them. 

Just imagine if you had converted at age 86 and you saw that the “lifers” were rewarded first?  You’d really worry you’d be found unworthy of glory in the highest degree, wouldn’t you?  You’d worry you’d only end up with a lower degree of glory, wouldn’t you?  Now imagine you (still an 86-year-old convert) watch someone in front of you who was converted at age 96 getting their full reward of glory in the highest degree.  You’d then be completely reassured and be able to wait with joyful anticipation, wouldn’t you?   You can also see that while the rewards are given out this way it will be so easy to fall into the error of thinking the reward would be greater the longer you’ve been in the church.  This is why we have to be aware that the important principle that makes us equal is sacrificing all things for the Lord’s sake.

And again, this is why the parable ends with the words “So the last will be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen” (Matt 20:16).  Indeed, many are called to sacrifice, but few have chosen to sacrifice all things for the Lord’s sake.  And we don’t know what others have sacrificed to join the church, but the neat thing is that God makes us all equal as we sacrifice all for Him.

Thursday, January 29, 2015 0 comments

What David does once King Saul is dead

1 And it came to pass after this, that David inquired of the Lord, saying, Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah? And the Lord said unto him, Go up. And David said, Whither shall I go up? And he said, Unto Hebron.
2 So David went up thither, and his two wives also, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail Nabal’s wife the Carmelite.
3 And his men that were with him did David bring up, every man with his household: and they dwelt in the cities of Hebron.

David inquired of the Lord if he could move back into Israelite territory once Saul was dead.  One might perhaps assume this should be a no-brainer, but it is admirable of David to go to the Lord about it and even to inquire about what city he should go to, when the ‘yes’ answer is given. 

Of course, where David goes, all his followers go too.  It must have been overwhelming to Hebron to receive so many people at once, so David distributes his people about “in the cities of Hebron.”  Happily, they were no longer refugees, and they undoubtedly had their goods with them, so the only difficulty would have been finding place for all of them.  (Imagine if two wards worth of people were to move in suddenly.)  I don’t doubt that David did his best to situate his people and negotiate with the Israelites already living there.  His leadership abilities would have been quite clear.

And the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah. And they told David, saying, That the men of Jabesh-gilead were they that buried Saul.

The men of Judah came and anointed David king over Judah.  His skills in battle were known, his generosity with the spoils of war were known (he shared with Israelite cities, even though he was living in exile at the time), his leadership they could see for themselves as well as hear stories from his men.  And they would not claim him king over more territory than would accept him.

David wasn’t a man to usurp power.  He prefers the common consent of his people.

5 ¶And David sent messengers unto the men of Jabesh-gilead, and said unto them, Blessed be ye of the Lord, that ye have shewed this kindness unto your lord, even unto Saul, and have buried him.
6 And now the Lord shew kindness and truth unto you: and I also will requite you this kindness, because ye have done this thing.
7 Therefore now let your hands be strengthened, and be ye valiant: for your master Saul is dead, and also the house of Judah have anointed me king over them.

David sent messengers to praise Jabesh-gilead for retrieving and burying Saul’s body.  This sent a strong signal that he was not the enemy of those who supported Saul, even though he clearly had reason to be resentful of how he’d been treated.  Those who supported Saul against David would naturally be afraid of retribution, but David preferred to extend mercy and goodwill, since he knew that Saul’s wickedness had forced a lot of people to do what they would rather not have done to prove their loyalty.

He also encouraged them to be strengthened and valiant even though Saul was dead and there didn’t seem to be a clear leader for them to follow.  They could follow him of course, if they wanted to, since Judah had made him king.

8 ¶But Abner the son of Ner, captain of Saul’s host, took Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, and brought him over to Mahanaim;
9 And made him king over Gilead, and over the Ashurites, and over Jezreel, and over Ephraim, and over Benjamin, and over all Israel.
10 Ish-bosheth Saul’s son was forty years old when he began to reign over Israel, and reigned two years. But the house of Judah followed David.
11 And the time that David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah was seven years and six months.

Abner, who was Saul’s cousin and captain of Saul’s armies prefers to support Ishbosheth, one of Saul’s sons.  It is interesting that he does this even though in the following chapter we find him stumping for David throughout Israel on the grounds the Lord had said David would save them from the Philistines and that they had previously wanted David to be king.

We can see from the list of places that Abner makes Ishbosheth king over that this was a progressive consolidation of power over time.  Evidently after Saul’s death the confederation of Israelite cities fell apart and had to be gathered up again.  With all this, we can imagine Abner would be thinking about how he might wrest Judah from David as well.

12 ¶And Abner the son of Ner, and the servants of Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, went out from Mahanaim to Gibeon.
13 And Joab the son of Zeruiah, and the servants of David, went out, and met together by the pool of Gibeon: and they sat down, the one on the one side of the pool, and the other on the other side of the pool.
14 And Abner said to Joab, Let the young men now arise, and play before us. And Joab said, Let them arise.

It is very interesting that Abner’s army and David’s army under Joab converges on the pool of Gibeon at the same day.  This looks a lot like it was planned.

By suggesting the young men play, Abner means that this is to be a small-scale fight, probably to determine whether Judah will be under Ishbosheth or not, so that a large-scale battle can be avoided.  Abner suggests it, so we can probably assume Abner planned this out.  To me it seems like he is the aggressor.

So what is the result?

15 Then there arose and went over by number twelve of Benjamin, which pertained to Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, and twelve of the servants of David.
16 And they caught every one his fellow by the head, and thrust his sword in his fellow’s side; so they fell down together: wherefore that place was called Helkath-hazzurim, which is in Gibeon.

So they chose twelve men from both sides to fight the little battle, and no doubt they chose the best men they possibly could.

The scriptures say “they caught every one his fellow by the head, and thrust his sword in his fellow’s side; so they fell down together.” In short, they were so strong that they were equally matched, equally determined to win, and they all used similar fighting strategy such that they simultaneously grabbed and stabbed each other.  And when all the 24 die like this, the result of the small scale battle is inconclusive.

The field was memorialized with the name “Helkath-hazzurim.”  Our Bible footnotes say that means “field of foes,” but other commentaries give a range of other meanings, like “field of sharp swords” or “field of sharp blades” or “field of rocky men,” which might describe the determination of those 24 men to prevail at any cost.

17 And there was a very sore battle that day; and Abner was beaten, and the men of Israel, before the servants of David.
18 ¶And there were three sons of Zeruiah there, Joab, and Abishai, and Asahel: and Asahel was as light of foot as a wild roe.

With an inconclusive small-scale battle, the big one is begun.  I have to wonder who started that.  Regardless of who started it, Abner and Israel were beaten by David’s army.  So even if in a small-scale battle they were even, in a large-scale battle David’s army was superior.

Here we are also introduced to Joab, Abishai, and Asahel, all sons of Zeruiah, who was David’s sister.  Asahel is described as a very speedy fellow, and this becomes very important in the verses that follow.

19 And Asahel pursued after Abner; and in going he turned not to the right hand nor to the left from following Abner.
20 Then Abner looked behind him, and said, Art thou Asahel? And he answered, I am.
21 And Abner said to him, Turn thee aside to thy right hand or to thy left, and lay thee hold on one of the young men, and take thee his armour. But Asahel would not turn aside from following of him.
22 And Abner said again to Asahel, Turn thee aside from following me: wherefore should I smite thee to the ground? how then should I hold up my face to Joab thy brother?
23 Howbeit he refused to turn aside: wherefore Abner with the hinder end of the spear smote him under the fifth rib, that the spear came out behind him; and he fell down there, and died in the same place: and it came to pass, that as many as came to the place where Asahel fell down and died stood still.

Commentators are full of praise of Abner here for all the high-sounding arguments he uses to try to shake Asahel off his tail, and they come down hard on Asahel for foolishly persisting in hounding such an experienced and clever warrior as Abner.  Abner warned him, they say, and then he killed him like he said he would.

However, they overlook some very important facts.  1) Abner and his men were beaten.  They had already lost.  Hence, the battle was in the mop-up stage.  2) Asahel pursued after Abner.  Which meant Abner was running away from the battle.

The first argument Abner uses to try to shake Asahel is an invitation to kill someone else and take their armor.  That armor was spoils of war.  This makes it seem like Asahel’s motive was merely glory and ambition.  However, Asahel may have also considered Abner the cause and perpetuator of the battle and thus a target of premier importance.  Remove the leader, remove the problem, right?  Asahel was right to stay focused on Abner.

The way Abner tells Asahel to “turn aside to the thy right hand or to thy left” makes me think that Asahel was chasing Abner right through the middle of Abner’s troops, from front to back.

Abner’s second argument to get Asahel off him is “wherefore should I smite thee to the ground?  How then should I hold up my face to Joab thy brother?”  This makes Abner sound like he’s such a superior solder and he doesn’t really want to kill Asahel, but Asahel is forcing his hand and Abner is so kind and concerned about his relationship with Asahel’s family…. 

Bull.  Again, if Abner is so superior, why is he running away?  There is no reason to suggest Abner is superior.  And Abner’s relationship with Joab has been adversarial anyway! What does he care if Joab starts a blood feud?  Abner has chased them from pillar to post under Saul’s regime.  It is all empty words, until he manages to jab Asahel in the gut with the back end of his spear.  Clear, but extremely grisly painful death.

24 Joab also and Abishai pursued after Abner: and the sun went down when they were come to the hill of Ammah, that lieth before Giah by the way of the wilderness of Gibeon.
25 ¶And the children of Benjamin gathered themselves together after Abner, and became one troop, and stood on the top of an hill.

Abner keeps running and manages to gather together a bunch of Benjamites on high ground to face the still-pursuing army of David.

26 Then Abner called to Joab, and said, Shall the sword devour for ever? knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end? how long shall it be then, ere thou bid the people return from following their brethren?

Once again, Abner gives high-sounding rhetoric to try and make Joab and his army think they are in the wrong.

“Shall the sword devour forever” – Remember, Abner was the one who started the whole thing in the first place and now he tries to spin it as a grudge-battle, meant as a way to get revenge on Abner and army.  It is clear Abner thinks Joab is getting one back at them for all the times Abner and army has pursued David.  Abner warns, “it will be bitterness in the latter end,” perhaps thinking of how bitter Saul became over trying to pursue David.  He also asks how long it will be before Joab stops chasing those who are really his brethren.  They are all Israelites, so why should they fight?  Ask Abner; he is the one who started it.  Who is really holding the grudge?

27 And Joab said, As God liveth, unless thou hadst spoken, surely then in the morning the people had gone up every one from following his brother.

Joab says that even if Abner hadn’t protested, Joab would have ended the pursuit in the morning.  (Of course, Abner will have to take it on faith that is the case.)  The army of David is not so vindictive as Abner makes them out to be.

28 So Joab blew a trumpet, and all the people stood still, and pursued after Israel no more, neither fought they any more.
29 And Abner and his men walked all that night through the plain, and passed over Jordan, and went through all Bithron, and they came to Mahanaim.
30 And Joab returned from following Abner: and when he had gathered all the people together, there lacked of David’s servants nineteen men and Asahel.
31 But the servants of David had smitten of Benjamin, and of Abner’s men, so that three hundred and threescore men died.
32 ¶And they took up Asahel, and buried him in the sepulchre of his father, which was in Beth-lehem. And Joab and his men went all night, and they came to Hebron at break of day.

So Joab takes his people home and takes Asahel’s body with them, and Abner takes his army back to Mahanaim.  Both of them march all night to their destinations, which gives an idea of how strong they were.  After their fighting and pursuing and all, they could still march all night.  And we get a comparison body count.  19 of David’s men and 360 of Abner’s men are dead.

However, after all this, 2 Sam 3:1 says there was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David.  Who was continuing this?  Abner was in charge of the army of Saul, so it seems to me that he spun his defeat as rationale to fight David, probably making him into a dire threat.

I think it is interesting how David’s growth continues, even after Saul is dead.  He doesn’t automatically become king of all Israel; he becomes king of a part, and still has to deal with opposition.  All his experience still works together for his good because of his faithfulness.   I think his upward trajectory gives us an idea of how Heavenly Father can help us too if we’re faithful.

Another thing I think we can learn from Joab and Asahel’s experience with Abner is how rhetoric is used to cast aspersions on the enemy.  We see this in moral wars today.  The thing to remember is that no matter what someone says, if you pay attention to what they are actually doing you understand what they are really like.  Abner sounded pious and considerate, but he was cowardly, cruel, manipulative, and rebellious.
Tuesday, January 27, 2015 2 comments

Quest to get David some Bethlehem water

14 And David was then in an hold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then in Beth-lehem.
15 And David longed, and said, Oh that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Beth-lehem, which is by the gate!
16 And the three mighty men brake through the host of the Philistines, and drew water out of the well of Beth-lehem, that was by the gate, and took it, and brought it to David: nevertheless he would not drink thereof, but poured it out unto the Lord.
17 And he said, Be it far from me, O Lord, that I should do this: is not this the blood of the men that went in jeopardy of their lives? therefore he would not drink it. These things did these three mighty men. (2 Sam. 23:14-17)

Think how devoted to David these men were, who wanted to get him a little drink of water from the Bethlehem well just to make him happy.  And too, consider how brave they were that they would attempt this risky mission against a host of the enemy, to break through and then to hold them off while one of them drew water from the well.  Consider that they had to make their escape and defend themselves while one must hold the water pot. (Or maybe they concocted a way to carry it hands-free so all three could fight.)

David was right to refuse to drink the water, touching as his men’s devotion was.  He would not want to be responsible for starting a precedent of rulers demanding men to sacrifice their lives just to obtain some trivial thing for the ruler to consume on his lusts.

So, David poured out the water before the Lord, and this language suggests it was it was done as a sort of sacrifice, suggesting an important lesson.  Though it isn’t fit to embark on risky missions to gratify a mortal leader’s trivial desires, certainly it would be great if we were to risk everything to gratify our God’s will.  In that respect, the three brave men are well worth emulating.

I find this story helps me see my own struggles with clearer perspective.  I can tell myself, “Okay, Michaela, so you’re having troubles contacting people as part of your calling?  Are you in any physical danger as you’re doing this?  No?  Then don’t you think you could do a little more with a cheerful heart?” 

Okay, yes, I think I could.
Sunday, January 25, 2015 2 comments

Shall In Nowise Lose Their Reward

For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. 
And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward. (D&C 58:28)
That bit “they shall in nowise lose their reward” at the end caught me for some reason.  It is peculiar phrasing to say that we will “in nowise lose our reward” instead of “we shall be rewarded.”

But I think there is a reassuring quality in the language that implies that it may seem like we are not rewarded in the short term, but in the long term the reward is there waiting for us and can’t be taken away.  That is reassuring.  If we were told “you shall be rewarded,” we would be looking for it to come more immediately, yes?

Friday, January 23, 2015 0 comments

Malachi Rebukes the Priest’s Polluted Offerings

¶A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear? saith the Lord of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name. And ye say, Wherein have we despised thy name?
Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the Lord is contemptible.
And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the Lord of hosts.
And now, I pray you, beseech God that he will be gracious unto us: this hath been by your means: will he regard your persons? saith the Lord of hosts.
10 Who is there even among you that would shut the doors for nought? neither do ye kindle fire on mine altar for nought. I have no pleasure in you, saith the Lord of hosts, neither will I accept an offering at your hand.  (Malachi 1:6-10)

This block of verses describes a number of ways the priests of Malachi’s day were polluting their service at the temple.

Their contempt for the service they did was the main problem because it led to them giving low quality offerings instead of their best.  Malachi challenged them on whether they thought low quality gifts to a human ruler would receive commendation, and it should have been obvious that if the governor were insulted, God certainly would be.

These comparisons are still useful today.  Do we have contempt for our callings or priesthood service?  If we were to go to our temporal jobs where we make a living and have a bad attitude there, can we imagine our employers being pleased?  Is God any different?  We may think He will not mind, but His greatness and mercy is worthy of our finest and purest devotions.

Malachi reminds the priests that they are the ones who are supposed to intercede for the people and he asks whether God will listen to their prayers if they have polluted their service.  Good question..

Malachi also asks the priests who among them would be so devoted to the service of God that they would “shut the doors” of the temple or “kindle fire” on the altar for nothing (not receiving any part of the offering).  If they would do it even if they didn’t partake in the offerings, then their hearts would be where they should be and their service would be devoted. 

Today our service is without charge, but we still need to be sure that the gift of our service is done with a willing heart, otherwise it is as polluted as Malachi spoke of.

Also, there is the principle Mormon shared in Moroni 7:

For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing.
For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness.
For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God. (Moroni 7:6-8)

I noticed about a month or two ago that my service was starting to get a little robotic, just going through the motions.  I’m trying to better at that, to think of it as an offering and to go into it whole-heartedly, rather than with apathy.  It’s taking some effort, I can tell you.  But I try because I anticipate that great spiritual blessings will come from it, and I want those blessings, particularly greater closeness to God.
Wednesday, January 21, 2015 0 comments

Wakeful & Ready Servants

35 Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning;
36 And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately. (Luke 12:35-36)

This reminds me of times when I was a teenager and I would come home from a youth stake dance around 11pm.  I always wondered if the door would be unlocked for me or whether someone would be awake to let me in if it was locked.  I wondered if I would might have to stand outside and bang on the door and the windows to get let in.   Thankfully, those times the door was locked, someone was awake and nearby, ready to let me in.

This imagery is interesting to me, not just because of what it tells about what Jesus wants to see, but also what He implies He doesn’t want to see happen.

He doesn’t want to be like a lord who comes back from a late night party and has to yell and hammer on the door for quite some time before anyone comes to let Him in.  Likewise, He doesn’t want to come back to the earth and find His own servants unaware and asleep and unready to receive Him because that would imply that they don’t care.

He wants the lights burning, showing people are awake.  What kinds of things are we to do to show the Lord we are awake spiritually and waiting for Him for His second coming?

He says he wants our loins to be girded about, showing we are still at work.  This isn’t supposed to be a situation where the servants all go to bed early or rest because the master isn’t home.  He wants us to work until He returns.

The cool thing is, the verse that comes after shows that there is a nice reward for those servants who do this:

Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them. (Luke 12:37)

This could mean two things—first, a big sacrament meeting (as in D&C 27) with all the servants of God together and/or it could mean a big conference in which Jesus Christ does a lot of teaching and ministering and healing (kind of like when He came to the Nephites).

That’s something to look forward to, isn’t it?

Monday, January 19, 2015 2 comments

Thoughts on Mary and Zacharias’s experience with Gabriel

I had a few thoughts about the stories of Mary and Zacharias in Luke 1 during the Sunday school lesson this last week.

When we talked about the story of the Annunciation, when Gabriel came to announce to Mary that she would conceive, I asked myself the question, “What does it tell us about the character of God that He sends a messenger to tell Mary ahead of time that she will conceive instead of just making it happen without any warning?”

It was an intriguing question and I came up with a few answers.

I think it tells us the Lord wanted her to understand the significance of what was going to happen and wanted to prepare her.  There is also in her submissive response the suggestion that she saw it as an implied request for permission, which permission she gave.

Just to pursue for a second that idea of asking permission, this suggests that the Lord was respecting Mary’s agency.   But then we have to wonder what the Lord would have done if Mary had refused.  The Lord’s plans are not frustrated, so He would have a backup plan ready.

Who was Mary’s backup?  It would have to be a woman named Mary, also of the house of David, for Old Testament and Book of Mormon prophesies to be fulfilled.

Oddly enough, it seems Mary had a sister also named Mary (which is rather weird), but it could have been a half sister.  “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene (Luke 19:25).  Of course, this is a bit speculative and depends upon how you interpret the meaning of that comma, whether it attaches “Mary the wife of Cleophas” to “his mother’s sister” or whether it continues the list with more people.  Still, I think it highly likely that the Lord had a backup in place in case Mary chose to refuse.

A point was made in the lesson that I hadn’t thought of before.  It is likely that Mary wasn’t so very popular among her peers because of her righteousness and it would have been startling to her to be told she was highly favored among women, thus her troubled feelings at the greeting, and thus the need for Gabriel to clarify that she was favored of God.  I think the experience she had standing strong against the temptation to seek for the world’s favor would have been important to her development for when she would find herself in a position that would look wrong, but be okay—pregnant, yet not having known a man.   It takes a spiritually strong person to stay faithful while everyone around them thinks they have done a very wrong thing when they haven’t.

Moving on to the story of Zacharias and Elizabeth..

The case of Zacharias and Elizabeth is interesting as well.  They were barren, and both well stricken in years, implying Elizabeth is into menopause.

The angel Gabriel, when he comes to tell Zacharias he will have a son, says something interesting: “…for thy prayer is heard.”  (Luke 1:13)  This makes it seem like this son is what Zacharias has been praying for that day as he offered incense.

Yet Zacharias is very old and his skepticism is opposite what his response would be if he’d been praying for it that day.

I think it is likely that Zacharias and Elizabeth had prayed for children for a long time, but that they (or Zacharias) had given up that particular petition once Elizabeth had moved into menopause, thinking it wasn’t going to happen.  That fits more with his skepticism.

So this brings us to some interesting questions now about how the Lord works when Gabriel says, “thy prayer is heard.”  Why tell Zacharias this now?  Why not visit him at the beginning of his prayers back when he was young and tell him, “Thy prayer is heard, but you’ll have to wait for years.”  It tells us that there may be long times when God is silent and doesn’t give us our petition.   And why?   It becomes a test of our faith whether we will continue to follow Him when we don’t know why He is not giving us immediately a righteous thing we ask for.   We’re probably pretty good at waiting a long time for things if we know why.  But can we wait a long time when we don’t know why?  It’s hard.  We have to trust that God is still good.

Another question that occurs to me is, “Why did John the Baptist have to be born so late?  Why not earlier?”  I think we don’t know much at all about why John had to be born so close to Jesus.  Perhaps if he were born earlier, he might have been martyred before Jesus came on the scene.  Perhaps his prophetic testimony of the coming Savior was meant to be witnessed very soon after it was given in order to show that God was moving fast and so there was necessity for quick repentance.

At any rate, the miracle of Elizabeth’s pregnancy was used by Gabriel as a sign to Mary that God could do impossible things.  If God could help a menopausal woman conceive by her husband, then God could certainly cause a virgin to conceive without coitus.

But back to this declaration, “thy prayer is heard.”  Sometimes we don’t know our prayer is heard until it is answered and the thing we pray for comes to pass.  It takes a lot of spiritual sensitivity to know the Lord has heard, even when our requests aren’t granted.  Granted requests are the biggest way we know prayers are heard, yet the angel’s pronouncement also teaches us that God hears our prayers all along, even if He can’t grant them yet according to His plan.

It also teaches us that God remembers and may answer our prayers far past the time that we’ve prayed them.  It teaches us something about the emotional strength of God, that He can hear our prayers and enter into the deeps of our yearnings and pains, and love us so, and yet refrain from granting our petitions for a greater purpose known to Him.  How badly He must want to bless us, and yet He can’t yet.  How many parents can stand that long a wait along with their children?

If I were to summarize the principles from the story, it would be this way:
--God respects the agency of His children, even those who are linchpins in His plan.
--Formative experiences often become a big part of our life purpose.
--God delays answers to prayer to try our faith
--God delays answers to prayer to fulfill His greater purposes.
--God’s miraculous answers to prayer are often used to help strengthen others’ faith in His power.
--God remembers our prayers even if we’ve forgotten or think it is past time for them to be answered.
--God hears our prayers all along, but has the emotional strength to delay answering and to lovingly wait along with us.

What else do you see in these stories?
Friday, January 16, 2015 0 comments

David’s humiliation and disappointment turns to his advantage

In 1 Samuel 29  we see David working for king Achish in Gath, living as a mercenary with his men.  He fully expects to take part in a battle fighting on the side of the Philistines, but when the Philistine leaders of other cities see David and his company, they are determined he will not be part of their army on the grounds that he might turn into a fifth column and attack them from behind while they fight the Israelites in front.

Achish has to break this news to David, and he says all kinds of nice things to David about how good he’s been, but I notice he doesn’t tell him why the Philistines don’t want David with them.  This makes me think that Achish was worried sharing that info would give David ideas and he would really become a fifth column then.

This rejection must have been humiliating to David, to be rejected and for no good reason he could see.  However, we see in the next chapter (1 Samuel 30) that this turned out to be a really good thing because when David and his army come home early, they discovered their city Ziklag had been attacked, spoiled, and all their families had been carried away captive!

Why is this a good thing?  It looks very very bad, but they were able to get revelation to go after them, and they eventually recovered everyone.  (I totally recommend reading about the circumstances yourself; it is neat to see the circumstances that line up so nicely and neatly that enable them to recover all their families and belongings.) 

See, if they had been part of the Philistine battle, they would have fought their own people, possibly been part of those who killed Saul and his sons, and when they returned to Ziklag much later, their city would still have been attacked and kidnapped, but the trail would have been so cold that they probably would have lost their families, a much greater tragedy.

The story in these two chapters teaches again that all things work together for good to them that love God.  Likely all of us have had or will have disappointments or humiliations that seem crushing at the time and seem to close off opportunities.  However, if we can reserve judgment and carry on as best as we can and seek revelation, we may find that those very events are the means of preventing greater loss and open even better opportunities.  It takes time and patience and perspective to see this.  (One example that comes to mind is that of Elder Hugh B.Brown’s experience with cutting down a current bush in his yard and then being passed over for promotion because the Lord meant to make something else out of him different from what he wanted.)   

Wednesday, January 14, 2015 0 comments

Jesus on children of prophet-killers

29 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,
30 And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.
31 Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.
32 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. (Matt 23:29-32)

In Matthew 23 Jesus delivers a list of woes to the scribes and pharisees for the hypocrisy and towards the end, he pronounces this line “ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.” But it isn’t quite clear why it applied so well, especially when He also points out how they seem to distance themselves from the people who killed the prophets before.

How do they distance themselves?  First they say, “If we had been in the days of our fathers..”  This shows they knew their genealogy.  They knew their ancestors had been part of mob action or individual persecution or tyrannical oppression or injustice against prophets and righteous mean.

Then they say, “…we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.”  The fact that the descendants now distanced themselves from the acts of their ancestors shows that at some point along the way the message of the prophets and the cause of the righteous who had suffered had finally been publicly vindicated.  In order to try to show they had learned from it, the people made a public show of honoring those dead worthies. 

However, by claiming they would not have partaken of the blood of the prophets, they demonstrated they did not know the nature of the circumstances and the pressures surrounding those prophets and righteous people when they were alive.  When pressures are that great that prophets and righteous are killed for their beliefs and message, those less steadfast change to the side of the persecutors out of self-preservation. 

Further, their distancing statements were done solely for the praise of the world, which is a position that is opposite that which prophets and righteous people have to take.  So the reality is that all statements to the contrary, these people would have partaken in the blood of the prophets to continue receiving the praise of the world.  Once the world turned against the current prophets and Christ, these people would too, in order to preserve that general good opinion they craved.

The consequences of this are terrible:

33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
34 ¶Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city:
35 That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.
36 Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.  (Matt 23:33-36)

While this isn’t the most cheerful of messages, I think it helps us today to understand how important it is to be independent of the praise of the world.  I appreciate how Jesus is clear about the consequences and does not mince words.

Inquiring of the Lord with idols in our hearts

Then came certain of the elders of Israel unto me, and sat before me.
And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,
Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be inquired of at all by them?
Therefore speak unto them, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet; I the Lord will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols;
That I may take the house of Israel in their own heart, because they are all estranged from me through their idols.
¶Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations.
For every one of the house of Israel, or of the stranger that sojourneth in Israel, which separateth himself from me, and setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to a prophet to inquire of him concerning me; I the Lord will answer him by myself:
And I will set my face against that man, and will make him a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of my people; and ye shall know that I am the Lord. (Ezekiel 14:1-8)

This block of verses have some puzzling things in them.  The elders of Israel come to Ezekiel to inquire of the Lord through him, but the Spirit tells Ezekiel that the elders did not inquire sincerely and that they still have idols in their hearts.

The Lord tells Ezekiel something strange He will do to people who do this – “I the Lord will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols; That I may take the house of Israel in their own heart, because they are all estranged from me through their idols.” (v4-5)  He says further that “I the Lord will answer him by myself: And I will set my face against that man, and will make him a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of my people; and ye shall know that I am the Lord.” (v7-8)

What is it these people are doing?  They are likening the words of the prophets to themselves, but because of the idols in their hearts (things they love more than God, sins they prefer more than God) they are likening the words of the prophets in a way that will justify them in committing their favorite sins.   This is what it means when the Lord says He will answer them according to their idols.  It is not that the Lord wants them to interpret His words as they do, but they take an edifying message and twist it to their purposes.

However, that doesn’t free them from the negative consequences, and the Lord declares these people will eventually be cut off from among the people, which means they will leave the church or be excommunicated.  You see, any time someone prefers a sin or idol to God and interprets God’s words to encourage them in that, they set a course that will lead them by degrees out of the church.

How does this help us today?  It shows us God knows perfectly well that people bent on keeping their favorite sins use His words to justify themselves and He also knows the consequences and warns all of us against trying that trick (and all of us may find ourselves in that situation at once time or another.)  We have everything to lose and nothing to gain by doing that.

How much better it is to use the word of God to show us what sins we have to give up and then use the Atonement!  This reminds me how important it is to pray with real intent and sincerity when praying for guidance.