Saturday, April 28, 2018 0 comments

Wickedness in a 6-gallon bucket

I was reading through Zechariah the other day and I found an interesting visionary incident. It is puzzling, and there is no large view interpretation for it in the scriptures, so it invites the faithful to ponder and extract important principles.
5 Then the angel that talked with me went forth, and said unto me, Lift up now thine eyes, and see what is this that goeth forth.
6 And I said, What is it? And he said, This is an ephah that goeth forth. He said moreover, This is their resemblance through all the earth.
7 And, behold, there was lifted up a talent of lead: and this is a woman that sitteth in the midst of the ephah.
8 And he said, This is wickedness. And he cast it into the midst of the ephah; and he cast the weight of lead upon the mouth thereof.
9 Then lifted I up mine eyes, and looked, and, behold, there came out two women, and the wind was in their wings; for they had wings like the wings of a stork: and they lifted up the ephah between the earth and the heaven.
10 Then said I to the angel that talked with me, Whither do these bear the ephah?
11 And he said unto me, To build it an house in the land of Shinar: and it shall be established, and set there upon her own base. (Zechariah 5:5-11)

First, some clarifications of terms.
An ephah is a dry measurement for grain, with a size of about 6-7 gallons.
A talent of lead would be a round disk of metal weighing about 113-125 pounds.
Shinar is another name for Babylon.

Now, let’s get straight what Zechariah saw. He saw an ephah container with a talent weight used as a cover. The angel lifted the weighty cover to show Zechariah there was a woman (symbolizing wickedness) in the ephah, then pushed her back down in and put the cover back on. After that, two other winged women picked up the ephah container, and the wind blew them to Shinar (Babylon), where, the angel said, they would build the ephah a house and a special spot, like a shrine.

Some interesting things I notice as I think about this imagery are the following:
1)    The ephah is like a 6-gallon bucket, and to fit a woman in there would be really confining. Like squished.
2)    The weight of the talent of lead on the mouth of the ephah container makes it so the woman can’t get out. She’s trapped.
3)    The woman has no control over where she is carried.
4)    The woman in the ephah container is taken to Babylon, where she is given a place and established in what looks like pleasant conditions, but she’s still confined in the ephah container.

There are a lot of commentators that say this talks about the wicked Jews being exiled to Babylon, but I think there is more to learn from it that can warn us today.  I think it is meant to convey the long-term spiritual consequences of wickedness.

Just like a woman squished in an ephah container (or a 6-gallon bucket), God is trying to show that wickedness is confining, rather than liberating. Just like the talent of lead on the mouth of the ephah prevented the woman from escaping, to those steeped in wickedness it often seems as if it is too hard to repent and escape their sins. It seems like they’ve gone too far or the costs of escape seem too great to pay. (Satan loves to use this lie, by the way.)

Then, these two women with wings come and carry off the ephah container to Shinar (Babylon) with the woman still in it, and the woman has no choice in the matter. The wings often symbolize powers, and winds can represent societal forces or worldly doctrines that blow here or there. It shows us that if someone doesn’t repent, they will be carried about by the world’s doctrines concerning the particular sins they indulge in. They’ve already given away their choice in the matter, so they don’t have control at this point.

Where does it all lead? Where is the ephah container carried to? Babylon. All sins lead to Babylon, no matter what they are. It’s like a one-way road to a dead end.

Then it looks like things get better for the woman in the ephah. A house is built for her, and there’s a nice secure base for the ephah to be placed. Some people interpret “house” as meaning a temple is made for the ephah where it is worshipped. And in Babylon all kinds of sins are glorified and given places. That makes me think that all the sins Israel must get rid of are the very things Babylon and the world loves, worships, and establishes. It’s as though Babylon is a junk yard dressing up as an amusement park, or a cesspit trying to masquerade as a temple.  But ultimately, don’t let the appearance fool you—the woman is still stuck in the ephah.

Also, I think this vision shows how instead of liberating, sin takes away freedom and options until one is so confined they lose their agency. Satan tries to make us think the wicked are strong individuals who forge their own path in life, but here we are shown that the wicked are carried away from the church and apostatize, then swept along by outside forces no matter how they try to fight it. Even if outside the church they are hailed as great heroes, accepted, respected, and given a place, they are still confined by their sins. They are not really free, and the respect of Babylon is not worth having, since they love all the wrong things.

All if this is so we know the long-term consequences of sin and what it leads to without having to actually experience it ourselves. No doubt Zechariah (and the Lord who gave the vision) hoped that people would see the truth and choose to repent and be free.
Thursday, April 26, 2018 0 comments

All God’s judgments are not given to man

But remember that all my judgments are not given unto men; and as the words have gone forth out of my mouth even so shall they be fulfilled, that the first shall be last, and that the last shall be first in all things whatsoever I have created by the word of my power, which is the power of my Spirit. (D&C 29:30)

That bit about “all my judgments are not given unto men” is intriguing. He’s given a lot of guidance on the things people will be judged on, and He wants us to know that stuff so we can prepare ourselves with repentance and/or avoid those sins.

But along with judgment that punishes, He can also give judgment that takes mercy. So this suggests to me that Jesus intends to take mercy in ways He has not told us. Aside from the principles of mercy on conditions of repentance and mercy for those who never heard of Christ or the gospel, and mercy on those not old enough to be accountable for their sins, we don’t know all the ways he can exercise mercy.

It could be He gives us a hint of another way He will have mercy in this verse—the last will be first and the first shall be last in all things. This is a reference to the parable of the workers hired in the market place at the 3rd, 6th, and evening hours, who were all mercifully given the same wages in the reverse order in which they were hired. Having the last be first is a mercy of love intended to show the last hired that they were not forgotten, when they might be perpetually afraid that they would be.

In any event, the Lord’s mercy is a surprising thing. Any of us who have experienced it can testify to that. I know I can. So I guess it makes sense that He reserves the right to use it and not tell us everything about how He can use it.
Tuesday, April 24, 2018 0 comments

Stumbling blocks and Snares

These verses come from chapters of Isaiah that Nephi quotes.
13 Sanctify the Lord of Hosts himself, and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.
14 And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling, and for a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
15 And many among them shall stumble and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.
16 Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples. (2 Nephi 18:13-16)
The chapter heading makes it clear this is talking about how Christ would be a stumbling block to Israel and Jerusalem. (He would be a different kind of Messiah than what they were expecting.)

I also think the same principle is relevant in the church today. If we aren’t careful, the words of the prophets and church policies can become stumbling blocks to us. Church history has stories of people who took issue with particular revelations and fell by the wayside—people who didn’t move to Kirtland, people who didn’t fulfill their callings, people who didn’t go west with the Saints, people who had troubles with this or that doctrine.

Each time there is a change of some sort, it becomes a test of discipleship to see if people will find sanctuary in the Lord or whether they will feel trapped and stumble and leave. We have a promise elsewhere that Christ will take away our stumbling blocks, but we each have to make the commitment to do whatever it takes to stay true.

Sunday, April 22, 2018 0 comments

Elisha predicts Ben-hadad’s death and Hazael’s kingship

7 And Elisha came to Damascus; and Ben-hadad the king of Syria was sick; and it was told him, saying, The man of God is come hither.
8 And the king said unto Hazael, Take a present in thine hand, and go, meet the man of God, and inquire of the Lord by him, saying, Shall I recover of this disease?
9 So Hazael went to meet him, and took a present with him, even of every good thing of Damascus, forty camels’ burden, and came and stood before him, and said, Thy son Ben-hadad king of Syria hath sent me to thee, saying, Shall I recover of this disease?
10 And Elisha said unto him, Go, say unto him, Thou mayest certainly recover: howbeit the Lord hath shewed me that he shall surely die.
11 And he settled his countenance steadfastly, until he was ashamed: and the man of God wept.
12 And Hazael said, Why weepeth my lord? And he answered, Because I know the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel: their strong holds wilt thou set on fire, and their young men wilt thou slay with the sword, and wilt dash their children, and rip up their women with child.
13 And Hazael said, But what, is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing? And Elisha answered, The Lord hath shewed me that thou shalt be king over Syria.
14 So he departed from Elisha, and came to his master; who said to him, What said Elisha to thee? And he answered, He told me that thou shouldest surely recover.
15 And it came to pass on the morrow, that he took a thick cloth, and dipped it in water, and spread it on his face, so that he died: and Hazael reigned in his stead. (2 Kings 8:7-15)

This is a pretty shocking story. Anyone with any acquaintance with the story of MacBeth can recognize a certain core element here. Did Elisha incite Hazael to assassinate Beh-hadad by telling him he would be king?

If we compare this story with that of David, who was anointed at an early age, we see that, no. Also, merely saying the thing will be so does not say anything about the means by which the event will come about.

There is also something odd in verses 10-11 that requires some examination. Something is going on under the surface here.

10 And Elisha said unto him, Go, say unto him, Thou mayest certainly recover: howbeit the Lord hath shewed me that he shall surely die.
11 And he settled his countenance steadfastly, until he was ashamed: and the man of God wept.

Why the double speak from Elisha? Why does Elisha say Hazael should say one thing—Thou mayest certainly recover”—when the truth is different? Also, why the difference in certainty levels in the statements—“thou mayest certainly recover” versus “he shall surely die?

Also, who’s got a settled countenance and who got ashamed? Was it all Elisha? Or was it Hazael?

I think it was Hazael, because the text says the man of God wept, which distinguishes his actions from the other’s. 

So why would Hazael be ashamed?

I think that Hazael came to Elisha on that mission having already determined to assassinate Ben-hadad and that Elisha’s words about what would happen revealed that Elisha knew from God what Hazael intended. So the answer was, yes Ben-hadad will recover, but he will surely die. Because Hazael was contemplating murder, Elisha’s knowledge made Hazael ashamed.

Further, Elisha tells Hazael that he knows Hazael will do much evil to Israel. (Clearly the Lord had showed Elisha what was coming and it was very painful for Elisha to know about it and know who was going to be responsible for it.) Perhaps Elisha hoped going to Damascus and telling Hazael about it would change things, but it seems to have not helped.

This story shows that God knows all that is in man’s heart and may reveal it to others to share, as a warning and to reveal His power. It also shows us some of the burden a prophet may carry of knowing ahead of time painful things that are going to occur. Elisha had to depend on the Lord for hope.

Friday, April 20, 2018 0 comments

The Samaritan’s First Aid

In the parable of the good Samaritan, I wondered about some of the things the Samaritan did for the wounded man.
33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. (Luke 10:33-34)

Why put oil and wine in the wounds? Wine would have some alcohol in it, and so would be an antiseptic and disinfect it. The oil would keep the skin soft and prevent any forming scabs from cracking prematurely and reopening the wound. Antibiotic ointment today is made up of a petroleum jelly with antibiotics in it, and the jelly does about the same thing as the oil.

So, it seems the parable had some solid practices of wound treatment in it, and this makes me wonder if this represented the first aid knowledge of that time or if this shows Jesus knew something about wound care that others didn’t and put that in the parable too.

Others have observed how the parable could be read as an analogy for the way Christ saves us, so this makes me think about what spiritual care might be analogous to pouring oil and wine into wounds. Perhaps they correspond with the way Christ purifies us from our sins and begins the process of healing with the Spirit, helping us to keep a soft heart.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018 0 comments

A prophecy in puzzling context

In 1 Nephi 22, Nephi describes different ways the righteous will be saved and the wicked destroyed in the last days. As part of the section, there is a series of verses I’ve wondered about each time I’ve read them:

19 For behold, the righteous shall not perish; for the time surely must come that all they who fight against Zion shall be cut off.
20 And the Lord will surely prepare a way for his people, unto the fulfilling of the words of Moses, which he spake, saying: A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass that all those who will not hear that prophet shall be cut off from among the people.
21 And now I, Nephi, declare unto you, that this prophet of whom Moses spake was the Holy One of Israel; wherefore, he shall execute judgment in righteousness. (1 Nephi 22:19-21)

Nephi is quoting a prophecy Moses gave in Deuteronomy 18:15:
The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken;
…which is re-iterated in Acts 3:22-23:

22 For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you.
23 And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people.

In those contexts of Moses and Peter, it makes sense that it would be talking about Christ raised up from among the people because Christ did grow up to maturity among the Israelite people. However, it is puzzling to see Nephi quote the scripture about a prophet raised up among the people, say it is the Holy One of Israel (Christ), and apply it to a context of the last days. because once Christ ascended, He can’t grow up among the people again.

The only way this scripture works is if we say it is about prophets raised up among the Latter-day Saints, prophets who speak the words of God according to the promise, “Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38). Also, note that the prophet is raised up by the Lord, not by the will of man, which nicely describes the seniority system in the quorum of the twelve apostles.

The next question that comes up then is, “Why then did Nephi want to underline that the prophet was the Holy One of Israel?” I think there are several reasons. 1) There are people who would love to think that they are the prophet that would be raised up, so pointing to Christ immediately stops that self-aggrandizing impulse. 2) Nephi is speaking about future things that technically fall in the responsibility of the apostle John to write about, so he might worry he’s saying too much and might feel he has to conceal or veil some things. 3) Since Nephi was answering a question about literal-versus-figurative for his brothers, creating this paradox is a good way to show how it is literal about prophets, but figurative about it being the Holy One of Israel in the latter-day context (since Christ can’t be physically born and grow up again). We really are in the best position to understand his meaning because we see how a prophet is raised up among the apostles.
Wednesday, April 11, 2018 0 comments

Iniquity leads to danger

There are these verses as Mormon describes how Nephites lost some ground:

8 And now it came to pass that the armies of the Lamanites, on the west sea, south, while in the absence of Moroni on account of some intrigue amongst the Nephites, which caused dissensions amongst them, had gained some ground over the Nephites, yea, insomuch that they had obtained possession of a number of their cities in that part of the land.
9 And thus because of iniquity amongst themselves, yea, because of dissensions and intrigue among themselves they were placed in the most dangerous circumstances. (Alma 53:8-9)

Now, this may seem like the most obvious principle, but it is worth pointing out, just in case we need to be bonked on the head – sin puts people in danger.

We can see that because the Nephites allowed dissension instead of keeping unified, and because they engaged in intrigue and deception instead of plain-dealing, they allowed the Lamanites too close, and then Nephite lands got taken over.

Maybe they thought they could be secret buddies with the Lamanites and still retain independence, but that was obviously not so. You let the Lamanites close, and they take over. Or they threaten you next. And suddenly…you’re in danger.

Once again, iniquity puts you in perilous circumstances. It puts you in danger.

Monday, April 9, 2018 0 comments

She did steal away the hearts of many

  Here are Alma’s words to his son Corianton to rebuke him for immorality:

3 And this is not all, my son. Thou didst do that which was grievous unto me; for thou didst forsake the ministry, and did go over into the land of Siron among the borders of the Lamanites, after the harlot Isabel.
4 Yea, she did steal away the hearts of many; but this was no excuse for thee, my son. Thou shouldst have tended to the ministry wherewith thou wast entrusted. (Alma 39:3-4)

These are not pleasant verses to think about, but there is something important that I wanted to point out that I noticed recently. It stuck me as particularly curious that Alma says of Isabel, “she did steal away the hearts of many.”

Our idea of a harlot is someone who exchanges sex for money, but there is something odd about this harlot, as described by Alma. He says she stole many hearts. Prostitution doesn’t seem like the kind of thing where hearts are stolen; it seems like it would be more of a non-committal thing, not engaging the heart.  So, there are three possible conclusions from this— either 1) prostitution steals hearts men never expected to give away, or 2) Isabel was a different type of harlot than we usually think of, one unique to that culture and its surrounding areas, or 3) Isabel took things much further than usual and created a one-sided emotional intimacy, stealing the hearts of many, but never giving her own.

“Stealing away the hearts of many”—there’s a cold-bloodedness in that which is scary. Like the theft was calculated and targeted. It’s dishonest, since the hearts she stole were not free to be given. That means her machinations broke up homes and ultimately caused misery wherever she went. If she was doing it to amuse herself, stealing only one heart didn’t satisfy her; she kept going, stealing more and more.  It’s also probable that she was emotionally needy and/or had been abused and was trying to collect all those hearts to make up for a lack of love in her childhood.

Whatever the reason Isabel stole hearts, it made her dangerous. But she probably didn’t look dangerous at all.  She probably was beautiful and very charming. But that was what drew men in.

Alma said Corianton had forsaken the ministry and gone after Isabel into the land of Siron among the borders of the Lamanites. I doubt Corianton would have gone off after some woman he only met once. There’s a relationship implied here. Perhaps Corianton tried to help Isabel and Isabel was just toying with him, and he deceived himself that he was just concerned about her until carnal desire took over. Then, by the time she left, he was in so deep that he felt like he couldn’t just let her go.

Another observation I have is that Satan used Isabel to distract Corianton from the ministry. The work of saving souls can be hard and thankless. There can be a lot of rejection involved. Love, or the appearance of it, can be very tempting to one who has suffered a lot of rejection. So can freely-given respect and admiration.  Alma notes in some earlier verses that Corianton had boasted in his own strength; Corianton probably felt deprived of respect and was trying to meet his own emotional needs.

Going back to Alma’s observation that Isabel stole away the hearts of many, it is interesting to ponder how Alma knew she had done this. Maybe Alma had to hear confessions from men who had sinned with Isabel. Maybe he himself was targeted and he resisted. At any rate, Alma knew Isabel had wide appeal, and he finished his observation with “but this was no excuse for thee, my son.” Corianton’s sin was understandable, but not excusable. He had a ministry to tend to, and he had neglected it.

How can knowing this help us today? 

First, there are people who want to steal hearts. Not just women, but men also. There are pick-up artists who hone their interpersonal skills and their approach with the goal of hooking people with charm and flirtation for their own gratification, and they sell instruction on how to do this. They may not be put off by finding out their target is married. Sooner or later, any of us may find ourselves in their cross-hairs.

Second, we may come in contact with others who have such an emotional need for love that they will try to get it anyway they can, even by stealing hearts. It is important to remember to keep proper emotional boundaries.  Be cautious and protect yourself. Remember your covenants.