Monday, March 7, 2016

Wo to those at ease in Zion

In 2 Nephi 28, Nephi pronounces some woes upon the kingdom of the devil and those who are flattered and pacified and so on.  Then there is this quick little verse with not much explanation:

Therefore, wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion!  (2 Nephi 28:24)

Then next verse is sort of similar:

Wo be unto him that crieth: All is well! (2 Nephi 28:25)

I’ve posted a long time ago about why our singing of “Come, Come Ye Saints” with the chorus “Allis well” does not fit this warning, so I’ll pass over that part, but I want to look at this warning to those who are at ease in Zion.

Why is being at ease in Zion so dangerous?  Is it the lack of repentance? Is it that there is danger in not being anxiously engaged? 

I notice there is a footnote for “ease” that goes to Amos 6:1, which repeats the woe to those at ease in Zion.  Nephi may have been quoting Amos, since the prophet Amos lived before Isaiah and Jeremiah, living in Judah, but prophesying to the northern tribes of Israel. If the prophetic books of the Old Testament were put in order that the prophets lived, Amos would come before Isaiah.)

But the next seven verses after Amos 6:1 elaborate on the warning with imagery that gives some clues to help us understand the danger, even if the imagery is slightly obscure.

1 Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of Samaria, which are named chief of the nations, to whom the house of Israel came!
2 Pass ye unto Calneh, and see; and from thence go ye to Hamath the great: then go down to Gath of the Philistines: be they better than these kingdoms? or their border greater than your border?
3 Ye that put far away the evil day, and cause the seat of violence to come near;
4 That lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall;
5 That chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of musick, like David;
6 That drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments: but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.
7 ¶Therefore now shall they go captive with the first that go captive, and the banquet of them that stretched themselves shall be removed.
8 The Lord God hath sworn by himself, saith the Lord the God of hosts, I abhor the excellency of Jacob, and hate his palaces: therefore will I deliver up the city with all that is therein. (Amos 6:1-8)

So what do we have here?  There are a few obvious things:
1)    They put far away the evil day (v3) – These people put off tricky tasks and thereby things get worse while they procrastinate.
2)    They cause the seat of violence to come near (v3)– A seat of violence is like a criminal gang’s headquarters. If criminals feel safe someplace, it is because the justice system there is weak and ineffectual.  So inaction over matters of justice causes evil and violence to proliferate to the point that it may become extremely difficult to eradicate.
3)    They are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph (v6) – This makes me think there was some sort of society affliction, but these people were so wrapped up in their pleasures that the problems weren’t bothering them, at least not enough to try to do something about it.

Now, what about the list of things they were enjoying? These seem like pretty comfortable and prosperous people. They have beds of ivory and couches (v4). They have plenty of cattle and sheep that they can afford to eat lamb and veal (v4). They have music and they have leisure time to invent new musical instruments (v5). They have plenty of wine and they have lovely ointments to use (v6). (Beauty aids? Perfume?)

The problem is they are so dang comfortable that they won’t take the trouble to deal with real problems, so those problems are going to get bigger until it disrupts their comfortable lives. But by the time that happens, they will have lost the moral force and courage to deal with their problems, and they will be the first to fly all to pieces.

The Lord tells Amos specifically that the Lord hates the excellency (and ease and refinement) of Jacob if it means they don’t do their duty and face their problems. Comfort without moral power is hollow and transitory.

This is a great message for our day, since we live in such comfort. If we are to escape the decay and moral rot, we must look at our troubles and duties as blessings that keep us strong.  They provide a load that helps us gain spiritual traction, like Elder Bednar taught. If we have been anxiously engaged, the period storms that roll in will  not overcome us.