Friday, June 29, 2018 0 comments

Israelites attempt to recapture land back from Philistines in 1 Sam. 4:1-5

1 And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out against the Philistines to battle, and pitched beside Eben-ezer: and the Philistines pitched in Aphek.
2 And the Philistines put themselves in array against Israel: and when they joined battle, Israel was smitten before the Philistines: and they slew of the army in the field about four thousand men.
3 And when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, Wherefore hath the Lord smitten us to day before the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of Shiloh unto us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies.
4 So the people sent to Shiloh, that they might bring from thence the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, which dwelleth between the cherubims: and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. (1 Sam. 4:1-5)

Just some background on this—In the chapter before this, Samuel has his first encounter with God, and is told that the Lord will punish Eli the priest because he didn’t restrain his sons and the Lord will do something in Israel that makes everyone’s ears tingle.

Now, in the situation of these verses, it is possible the Israelites were attempting to reconquer the land or finish the job Joshua started. Some of the things they do echo Joshua’s campaign against Jericho—calling for the ark of the covenant to go with the army. Later verses say they also shout, which reminds me of the shout that had once leveled the walls of Jericho.

However, if this was the case, these Israelites did not go spiritually purified and prepared like Joshua’s army had. Joshua’s army purified themselves, circumcised those not yet circumcised (which was a sign of entering the covenant), and celebrated Passover. Further, they got their battle plan from the prophet, who got it from God.

These Israelites all knew Samuel was to be a prophet, but they didn’t consult him. Maybe they got Eli’s blessing and thought that was enough. I get the impressing that with Eli and the corruption of his sons, there was not much chance they would have been prepared in the first place.

This campaign ultimately fails, and they lose the ark for a time. The failed campaign underlines to them the uselessness of trusting in religious objects to save them, so in 1 Samuel 7, once they are suitably chastened, we see Samuel persuading the people to put away their idols and to prepare to serve God only. The people fast and confess their sins, they ask Samuel to pray for them continuously, and Samuel offers sacrifice…and then the Lord helps the Israelites win against the Philistines.

This becomes another religious tradition of battle to have the prophet offer sacrifice and pray for the people, and sadly this becomes misunderstood by King Saul, who becomes so anxious for the pre-battle sacrifice that he offers it himself, usurping authority because Samuel is not present “in time.”

Hopefully we can learn from this that it isn’t just the religious ritual that is efficacious, but the practice paired with sincere repentance and purity. Without the broken heart and contrite spirit, without the consistent obedience to the commandments, religious ritual is empty, even if done the right way with proper authority.

If we rouse ourselves to fight any kind of obstacle, make sure to repent and seek sanctification first and be anxious to keep the commandments.
Tuesday, June 26, 2018 0 comments

What kind of man is Boaz?

While the Book of Ruth is named after Ruth, a careful study reveals it is just as much about Boaz, and by highlighting everything he says and does, we can get a good idea of his character.

--He’s a mighty man of wealth (2:1)
--He visits his workers (2:4)
--He’s curious about people and asks about them (2:5,11)
--He’s very generous to the poor, especially to those who have converted and made great sacrifices to help others, like Ruth has
            A)He lets Ruth glean with his maidens, offering companionship and protection (v8)
            B)He protects her from men who might molest her (2:9)
            C)He offers her refreshment with drink and food (2:9,14)
            D)He has his servants leave more grain for her (2:16)
            E)He invites Ruth to glean his fields for the whole harvest (2:21)
--He works along with his servants (3:2)
--He takes preventative measures to guard his harvest from thieves and doesn’t mind sleeping elsewhere besides his bed (3:7)
--He does not take advantage of women, even if they sleep nearby (3:8-14)
--He sees it as a kindness that someone wants him to marry her, to be her kinsman redeemer (3:10)
--He takes care of business immediately (3:18)
--He is aware of who is the closer kinsman-redeemer and he goes by the rules, yet he is willing to take responsibility himself (3:12-13)
--Even if he is not clear who will marry Ruth, he still gives her a very generous gift of grain to increase her and her mother-in-law’s food security (3:15)

(I have to say here that Boaz’s generosity and kindness reminds me a lot of my husband and his kindness to me even before we were dating. I feel like I know Boaz because I know my husband.)

The way Boaz does so many kind things for someone he hardly knows is puzzling to Ruth, the recipient of his attention, and she asks the obvious question, “Why have I found grace in thine eyes?” (v10) I love his reason—he knows how good she has been to her mother-in-law and how brave she has been to come live among people of a different culture and religion and to join that religion. He sympathizes with the difficulty of her situation and wants to make it easier for her. Pure charity.

The scene of Boaz redeeming shows that he is willing to take a responsibility upon himself that will inevitably hurt his own interest, but he is eager to do it anyway. He is, after all, a mighty man of wealth. I think that in this story he is meant to teach us of Christ’s enthusiasm and eagerness to redeem us, even when it will be incredibly costly to Him. He has a wealth of goodness and grace to bestow on us, and He takes it as a joy if we allow Him to redeem us.
Sunday, June 24, 2018 0 comments

How long are ye slack?

I was surveying the Book of Joshua recently, and these verses stuck out to me:

1 And the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled together at Shiloh, and set up the tabernacle of the congregation there. And the land was subdued before them.
2 And there remained among the children of Israel seven tribes, which had not yet received their inheritance.
3 And Joshua said unto the children of Israel, How long are ye slack to go to possess the land, which the Lord God of your fathers hath given you? (Joshua 18:1-3)

At this time, the Israelites had conquered a portion of the land, but not all, and 7 out of the tribes hadn’t yet received their inheritances. It seems there was a bit of delay in finishing the job. It is not clear from the text what the reason was—maybe provisioning became difficult for an extended campaign. Maybe the tribes who had received inheritances had lost their motivation to help others receive theirs. Maybe they were tired. Or maybe so much success made them take victory for granted, and they thought they could win anytime. (All that is speculation, of course.)

I think it is interesting that Joshua doesn’t ask about WHY they are slack. Instead, he asks, “How long are ye slack?” Asking that question helps pin down whether the intent to accomplish the task is really there or not. Because if procrastination is a cover for an intent to avoid it permanently, the answer is something like, “Uh…I don’t know.” But if the answer is a definite time frame, there are often valid reasons for delay.

Joshua’s question is a healthy goad to use on ourselves when we’re slacking off. We all delay something sometime when we know we should be up and doing, and sometimes we just need a good kick in the pants from on high.

Is there anything you’ve been delaying? I know a few things I need to work on. Can you tell how long you’re going to delay? Why not get on it now?

I also think Joshua really internalized the counsel from God to be strong and of good courage. There’s an expectation in his question that the Israelites are strong enough to succeed with the Lord’s help if they will just get going and act. He seems like he’s the kind of guy used to doing five impossible things before breakfast.

Friday, June 22, 2018 0 comments

God gives light

For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men. For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding. (2 Nephi 31:3)

This verse has helped me a lot in life. So often it helped me in my studies as I worked to understand things. It helped me whenever I’d run into things I couldn’t understand, helping me trust that either there would be a way to understand it if I learned more, or it was something worthless trying to cover that up with a pretense of obscurity. It has helped me value teachers for their ability to make difficult subjects clear, beautiful, and harmonious.

It also shows me just how involved revelation is in learning. Every insight, every realization, every epiphany is a gift from God and brings us closer to Him.

I think the scripture also teaches what a brilliant linguist God is. If He speaks to all of us according to our understanding, He must know all our languages. Not only does God condescend to speak, but to adapt His message to our level of understanding, meaning He knows the level we’re at. (I suspect He sometimes pitches His messages at a slightly higher level to motivate us to stretch a little bit so we can also grow spiritually.) He understands us perfectly, and how He must yearn for us to understand Him. And yet, here we are, with our limited mortal perspective hopefully widened a little with our knowledge of the Plan of Salvation. How much we must trust Him!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018 1 comments

Those who died in the faith

I ran across some interesting verses that observe two different kinds of death of believers.

And it came to pass that there were many who died, firmly believing that their souls were redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ; thus they went out of the world rejoicing. (Alma 46:39)

But there were many who died with old age; and those who died in the faith of Christ are happy in him, as we must needs suppose. (Alma 46:41)

So there were those who firmly believed they were redeemed by Christ, and they left life rejoicing, while there were others who died in the faith of Christ, but no emotion was attributed to their death, except that Mormon supposed they were happy.

The question that comes to me is—if I had to choose between these different types of death, which would I want?

On one hand, I think it is good to die in the faith of Christ because that suggests I’d endured to the end, but to only have people suppose I achieve happiness doesn’t seem good enough. I’d like to leave the world rejoicing. I’d like to die in a state of firmly believing I’d been redeemed by Christ.

But I’m also a little leery of that phrase “firmly believing” because there is a chance of believing something that isn’t really true, and that would be a tragedy to believe I was redeemed if I wasn’t. There’d be a shock of unmet expectations on the other side. I’d like to have more assurance.

But maybe Mormon uses that phrase “firmly believing” to express how an external observer doesn’t really know how assured a believer really is of their redemption except through how firm they are. Going out of the world rejoicing seems to indicate there is real joy there, given by God as part of some extra assurance.

So, this leads to a question—“How can I achieve firmness in my salvation?” I suppose by repenting every day, and the assurance will come by the presence of the Spirit in my life, since the Holy Ghost is the earnest (or down payment) of our salvation.

A little later after I wrote about this, I stumbled across another verse elsewhere that expounded on it further:

Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God. (Helaman 3:35)

So, this verse also suggests fasting and praying often, and promises greater humility will come, greater faith in Christ will come, greater joy and consolation will come, greater purity will come, and greater submission to God will come. We can have that in this life, instead of waiting to have it just at the point of death.

Thursday, June 7, 2018 0 comments

A Preview of One of the Lord’s Servants

In 3 Nephi 20, Jesus gives a lot of prophecy of things to come—of the establishment of the New Jerusalem, of the Lord’s people being given the land of Jerusalem.

Then there is something else about the Lord’s servant in these days.

43 Behold, my servant shall deal prudently; he shall be exalted and extolled and be very high.
44 As many were astonished at thee—his visage was so marred, more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men—
45 So shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him, for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider.
46 Verily, verily, I say unto you, all these things shall surely come, even as the Father hath commanded me. Then shall this covenant which the Father hath covenanted with his people be fulfilled; and then shall Jerusalem be inhabited again with my people, and it shall be the land of their inheritance. (3 Nephi 20:43-46)

I had always thought the marred servant was Jesus Christ, because of the crucifixion and all that. After all, this comes from a quotation of Isaiah 52:13-15, and we are used to being told to read these things with our testimony of Christ. But was Jesus’s face and body really marred more than any man? Yes, He suffered, but we don’t think of him as being disfigured like “marred” seems to imply.     Or, I had thought it represented Joseph Smith because of how our church extolls him to such an extent that his name is like a gem to the sanctified. But was Joseph Smith marred or disfigured? No.

It is my personal opinion (non-official, not doctrine) that these verses foretell a particular prophet to come.*  We are told his visage is so marred, more than any man, and that indicates this is no handsome figure of masculinity. He is going to have an ugly mug. His form is marred too—so he may be badly handicapped, perhaps missing limbs, perhaps suffering from some disfiguring syndrome. But he will be the Lord’s servant!

This man is the Lord’s servant, and he leads with the Spirit, dealing prudently and wisely, and he will be highly extolled for that. And when he meets with kings and presidents, they will be absolutely shocked. I speculate this shock arises from seeing that this servant has come to such prominence with his physical disadvantages. They will realize the Lord can work through even the weak. They will say to themselves, There is no way this man has gotten anywhere on his looks because he doesn’t have any. And charm isn’t enough, with his condition. And he doesn’t have the physical power either.
In short, this servant of God will be able sprinkle (or gather) many nations because of how the Lord works through him to touch others, in part through his physical deficits. In a world of “survival of the fittest,” the Lord can take his servants from among the weakest to demonstrate His power. While men tend to choose leaders among the handsome and strong, disfigurement makes this servant of the Lord all the more distinctive. The Lord’s choice demands that people look deeper than the surface. Even if this servant’s authority is questioned, his condition will call forth compassion in others’ hearts, softening them, allowing them to feel the Holy Ghost.

Why does the Lord share this information? Perhaps it prepares us to receive this servant. Perhaps it is to encourage the servant in moments of discouragement. Perhaps it is a sign we can look forward to that will tell us how close the Lord’s covenants are to fulfillment.

At any rate, if we can’t receive and obey the Lord’s servants now, we won’t be ready for the Lord’s future servants.

So, if we keep a look-out for a man who is more handicapped or ugly or disfigured than you’d ever expect a man to be, be sure to sustain the prophets and apostles of today.

*Prophets who are prophesied of are extra special. Remember Jesus said John the Baptist was “much more than a prophet” because John was the one Isaiah spoke of as the voice of one crying in the wilderness.
Tuesday, June 5, 2018 0 comments

Putting Together the Tabernacle

My husband and I were reading through Exodus and we hit the sections that talk about how the Tabernacle was put together. (There’s also directions for how the Lord wanted it made, which are given earlier.) In the midst of all the details about taches of gold and sockets of silver and curtains and loops and boards, there’s a verse that I really liked.

And he made fifty taches of gold, and coupled the curtains one unto another with the taches: so it became one tabernacle. (Exodus 36:13)

In the midst of all the little details and all the pieces, suddenly we get a picture of the unified result—voíla! One Tabernacle!

I couldn’t help but see how that was analogous to how all the individuals of ward or branch come together and suddenly—we are one, unified in Christ through the Spirit. All those taches (and meetings that build friendship) and curtains (services to help shelter each other from major difficulties) and couplings (temple marriages) –all of that helps build our strength and unity.

Another thing I’ve observed in reading about all this detail is that it is actually presented twice—once when the Lord revealed it to Moses, and again as the Israelites are building the equipment and putting the Tabernacle together.   While it may seem repetitious, it shows this was by the Lord’s command and not something the Israelites came up with themselves. It shows they were obedient in every detail. We don’t see the Lord commanding and then no action from his people to obey. Obedience is not taken for granted here.

 I also think this is notable because it gives us an example of when the full plan was given Moses all at once, not in dribs and drabs of incremental revelation. Big loads of revelation happen from time to time. And of course, the Lord chooses what situations call for a dumptruck-load of revelation versus a teaspoon-full of revelation in increments. Our part is to make ourselves ready to receive.  Eventually we get to see the full result, the unity of all the separate little projects are working toward.

Sunday, June 3, 2018 0 comments

Thoughts on Deborah the prophetess in Judges 4

At the time of Deborah, the Israelites were oppressed by Jabin, king of Canaan and his general Sisera, who commanded 900 iron chariots.

4 And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time.
5 And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Beth-el in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.
6 And she sent and called Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kedesh-naphtali, and said unto him, Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded, saying, Go and draw toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun?
7 And I will draw unto thee to the river Kishon Sisera, the captain of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand.
8 And Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go.
9 And she said, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the Lord shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh. (Judges 4:4-9)

When we hit this story, we love that Deborah is a prophetess, but it is not very clear to us how.

Recently, however, it hit me that this whole story tells at least one big instance of her prophetic gift at work.

She summons Barak from Kedesh-Naphtali and tells him, “Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded…?”  This is interesting language. It is as if she is telling him something that she knows he already knows, but in the story it is as if this is the first he’s heard of it (or at least Barak doesn’t say anything about knowing something about it already).  

What Deborah’s language tells us is that Barak had already had promptings or impressions or dreams that the Lord wanted him to save Israel, and that Deborah’s summons was confirming revelation that he really was supposed to do this. The Lord had revealed to her that it was supposed to be Barak.  I don’t know whether the Lord also revealed to her that Barak already knew or whether she just trusted that the fact this had been shown her meant he already knew too. 

But I love that she talks to him with complete assurance that he already knows this stuff. There’s no pussy-footing around the fact they both know. There’s no saying, “So, I had this weird dream. I think you’re supposed to do this.” No, she says, “Hasn’t the Lord said…?”

Also, she knows how many people are supposed to fight alongside Barak—ten thousand—and she knows what tribes they are from—Naphtali and Zebulun—and she knows where they are supposed to gather—Mount Tabor—and she knows how Sisera is going to die—by the hand of a woman. It’s like she’s already seen the battle happen, which very well could have happened in a grand, sweeping vision or prophetic dream.

Later, in v14, once the army is gathered, she also knows the day the battle will happen, and she lets Barak know that too, also with language that assumes he has been shown this too.

When she prophesies that Sisera will be sold into the hands of a woman, the reader tends to think, “Oh, that woman must be Deborah, since she’s going into battle at Barak’s side.” But then we get the surprise that it is Jael who kills Sisera, and by reading about how Jael is associated with Sisera, it becomes clear that Sisera and Jael’s family were actually in some sort of league with each other. So we are treated to the surprise that Sisera was killed by one of his allies, not an enemy. That is not what anyone would have expected, and prophecy is like that. It will tell something that is unexpected.

One of the things this story about Deborah tells me is that calls from prophets don’t come out of the blue. The Lord will give individuals some indication that they are soon to do a work, and then the call from the prophet confirms this revelation. This is how the individual knows he or she is not just making it up, and the response of the individual shows the prophet that the individual has been prepared by the Lord. This is why it is important to have the Spirit with us so that we are open to the revelation God has for us, whether it is how to deal with our challenges or whether it is an upcoming course change we need to be ready for, or a work we are to do.
Friday, June 1, 2018 0 comments

Book Review: Improving Family Communication: 16 FHE Lessons on Christlike Communication

In an era when social media and smart phones are slowly decreasing face-to-face communication and as unproductive communication practices seem to be spreading, Improving Family Communication: 16 FHE Lessons on Christlike Communication by Rebecca Irvine promises busy LDS parents easy plans for how to teach their children healthy communication skills.

The lessons start from a foundation of self-concept and self-worth, lead into emotions, non-verbal communication, then various methods of communicating with civility. Then they also cover topics necessary for repairing relationships after conflict, such as apologies and forgiveness.

Each lesson has a purpose, a scripture, a thought, a short lesson, discussion questions, a fun activity to reinforce the lesson, a fun activity for much smaller children, a challenge to act on, and suggested music from the hymn book or primary song book to sing.

Reading through, I felt like the lesson information was tightly focused and helpful, without getting technical or jargon-ish. The activities seemed both fun and effective for reinforcing the lesson purpose. The kid in me wishes I could be part of these activities.

Growing up, I personally learned about communication through a lot of different experiences in my life and different books, but I think if I had had these concepts presented to me in an organized way like this, it would have helped me a lot in life. I think this is a great thing to be made available to LDS parents. 

A quick survey of Amazon’s books seems to show that this is the only one of its kind that is aimed at helping parents train their kids in communication. I saw lots of books dedicated to helping adults talk to adults and adults talk to kids, but none that seemed geared toward lessons for kids to teach them foundational principles and good communication practices.

Is there anything not to like about this book?

Wellllll…I personally found myself wanting more depth in the lesson sections (‘cause I’m curious like that), but I realize this book wasn’t meant to be an elaborate treatise, so it is just what it should be.

Disclosure: I was given a free copy for reviewing purposes, but this in no way influences my review.